You can help Father Lawrence transform society in Nigeria
As students return to school, I’m always reminded of the good work of the many Catholic saints who modeled for us the educational system from which we all benefit today: St. Jean Baptiste de La Salle, St. Joseph Calasanz and St. Lucy Filippini. Driven by their love of the Lord, they were called to bring hope and opportunity to the poor.
Thanks to them we know that schools can be institutions of knowledge and learning, but also sources of moral formation. Schools can be communities of rigorous academic endeavor but also communities of spiritual development within which students learn from their teachers and each other the importance of prayer, service and virtue. Schools can also be a tool for economic stability and peace.
As the director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha, I have the privilege of meeting and working with priests and sisters from all over the world. As a result, I’m blessed by their witness of faith and their stories of being Catholic in nations and cultures far different than my own.
One of the priests I’ve come to know is Father Lawrence. He is a Claretian priest who serves in the Diocese of Maiduguri in Northeastern Nigeria. This is a part of the world which would be quite happy to be out of the news, but which sadly has found itself on our front pages due to the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram.
Readers may recall the terrorism of Boko Haram in 2014, when they kidnapped hundreds of young girls. In 2015, the Diocese of Maiduguri reported that Boko Haram had burned down churches, taken over parish centers and killed over 5,000 Catholics resulting in over 10,000 Catholic children being orphaned.
By late 2015, much of the power of the terrorist organization had been destroyed. However, as Father Lawrence explains to me, and as he shows me pictures of the recent dead, the violence is not quite over. His home is still a dangerous place.
Nevertheless, he ministers to two dozen parish churches, only a handful of which are easily accessible, and he has saved a struggling school. By means of this school, he has given hope to parents who feared there was none left in this world, and he has given children some stability and regular meals.
What’s more, he has sown the seeds of peace, because not all Muslims are members of Boko Haram or agree with its terrorist ideology. And so, several Muslim families send their children to Father Lawrence’s school.
Recently, when his provincial suggested moving Father Lawrence elsewhere to replace him with a younger priest, the people, the local clergy and the Muslim families petitioned the provincial to let Father Lawrence stay. The provincial agreed, in part because it was so clear that the school has brought former enemies together and is healing many wounds.
I’m happy to say that the Propagation of the Faith in collaboration with the Diocese of Maiduguri has helped Father Lawrence’s school, but he needs more help. Many of the priests and sisters I meet need our help as they educate and form children for the future Catholic Church.
Please pray for Father Lawrence and for his great work. Pray that he remains safe amidst the violence that still flares up. Please also consider helping the work of the Propagation of the Faith financially, supporting your Mission Cooperation Plan missionary when he comes to your parish and/or sending funds to 100 N. 62nd Street, Omaha, NE 68132.
Deacon Omar Gutierrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.