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Nigerian cardinal supports offer of amnesty to Boko Haram insurgents

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Abuja, Nigeria

Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja supported Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's proposal to offer amnesty for any Boko Haram militants who stop fighting and embrace peace.

In a June 3 letter, Onaiyekan said any amnesty arrangement must be undertaken with the goal of reconciliation among the government, militants and victims of violence.

The letter was the fifth the cardinal sent from Rome to Nigeria to address violence in his country. The cardinal said he is in Rome tending to church-related business.

A day later, the Administrative Board of the Nigerian bishops' conference called for six months of prayer for peace in response to the violence that has rocked much of Africa's most-populous nation. The bishops outlined a series of prayerful actions that individuals, clergy, religious and parishes can take from July through December.

Onaiyekan wrote that offering amnesty "is a great challenge, which calls for a lot of commitment, sincerity and consistency on the part of government and its agents."

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He also said amnesty should not be a "case of enthroning impunity," which encourages the militants to "blackmail government in the future through violence."

"The motivation has to be the pursuit of peace and reconciliation with people who admit wrongdoing and are ready to repent," Onaiyekan said.

During a Democracy Day broadcast May 29, Jonathan discussed an offer of amnesty to Boko Haram insurgents who lay down arms and embrace dialogue. His offer came in an effort to rein in increasingly destructive attacks on civilian targets.

Boko Haram is an Islamist militant group with a somewhat undefined leadership and structure. It is in the fifth year of a violent campaign that has included bombings, attacks on churches, assassinations and abductions in an effort to overthrow the Nigerian government and create an Islamist state.

Onaiyekan wrote that an amnesty program must include compensation and rehabilitation for victims of Boko Haram violence.

"There is no way to bring back the dead," he said. "But the nation cannot leave surviving victims without any form of adequate compensation. The hurt and anger of victims cannot be ignored if true reconciliation in the 'broader society' is ever to begin to take place.

"This may involve a greater challenge than amnesty for terrorists. But it is a challenge that must be taken on board promptly and visibly. It does not make any sense, both in justice and morality, to budget for former murderers and make no provisions for innocent victims of their atrocities," he said.

The bishops' call to prayer came after a two-day meeting in Abuja in which Nigeria's security crisis was discussed in detail. The bishops called on Catholic families to pray the rosary together on Saturday evenings and urged parishes to host an hour of rosary and eucharistic adoration the last Sunday of every month.

Nationally, a rosary pilgrimage is being planned at the National Christian Center in Abuja the night of Nov. 13-14.

Prayer intentions were set for each month from July through December. Intentions include the safe release and return of all abducted people; the suffering of the victims of violence; security personnel who have been killed, lost limbs or lost property; unity, peace and good governance; the eradication of corruption and the promotion of justice; and the promotion of family values, the institution of the family and protection of human life.

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