On Monday, a violent mob of Nigerian pagans stabbed a Catholic priest in the face with a monstrance – a pole used to carry the Eucharist – and beat him into a coma for leading a Rosary procession into their village.
Father Fidelis Ifeanyichukwu Ugozo of St. Raphael's Catholic Church in Ugbenu, Anambra State in southeastern Nigeria, was stopped by Gabriel Ikegbunam, one of the youth leaders in his village. Ikegbunam says he stopped him because he felt that the priest was there to burn down their deity.
Ikegbunam would not allow the priest and his parishoners to enter the village, but after confronting them they continued their procession. He then called youths from the village to attack the priest and his followers, who were mainly women and children.
Father Ugozo was shot twice in the back, stabbed in several places with a monstrance, and beaten until he became comatose. Twenty other Catholic faithful were injured during the attack. After the brutal beating, Fr. Ugozo was sent to an undisclosed hospital nearby, and later transferred to a Catholic hospital.
According to a former catechist at St. Raphael's, Cletus Nwankwo, a former catechist at St. Raphael's, youth leader Ikegbunam had told his friends that "Catholics are coming to burn their shrine."
"Soon the youths trooped out, wielding dangerous weapons such as axe, gun and machetes," said Nwankwo. "They grabbed the Blessed Sacrament from our parish priest, hit it on the floor and used the Monstrance to hit our parish priest on his hand before stabbing him on the face and other parts of the body."
The pagan group has shown hostility towards Christians before. One of the town's traditional rulers, Igwe Lawrence Egwuonu, told reporters "his wife was among those beaten." The youths had also previously accused Christians of burning their pagan symbols and shrines.
"After investigation I discovered that they were all liars," said Igwe. "None of their shrines were burnt and I can defend it anywhere."
"It was Ikegbunam that incited others to attack the priest and other Christians," he continued. "Their greatest mistake was touching the priest and destroying the Blessed Sacrament. It is a sacrilege and they will pay for it."
Two of the youths were apprehended by police while others remain at-large.