Gyang Bere, Jos
Tears flow freely from fortunate parishioners who survived the days of pains as St. Finbarr’s Parish Rayfield, under the Catholic Archdiocese of Jos, organised a memorial service for 14 members who died during morning mass on Sunday March 11, 2012 when suicide bombers hit the church.
Relations, associates and well wishes of the deceased gather annually to remember the expensive sacrifice made by the deceased to save thousands of innocent worshippers who were the target of the blast.
But the Sunday March 11, 2019 memorial mass for the victims was unique. A Fountain was built and unveiled with pictures and contact information about the deceased persons to remember their active service in the church.
Some of the relations who could not hold back their tears cried and wailed in a painful manner when the church narrated how each victim died and the role played in preventing suicide bombers from gaining complete access into the church premises.
For a 30-year-old serving Corps member, David Jang, the suicide bombing explosion will ever remain green in his memory.
He is the only survivor and the wounds sustained during the blast have been healed but the scars still remained fresh in his stomach and neck where some particles from the explosion hit him.
David was said to have been heading for a 10:00a.m morning mass that fateful day when he suddenly heard a very loud scary sound with heavy impact ringing out from the church.
Immediately, David went blank and for two days, doctors at the Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) battled to save his life. Many thought he was dead but at last, his breath was restored and he regained consciousness.
David found himself on a hospital bed under severe pains. He was inflicted with injuries on his stomach, head and neck. His eyes were badly affected but he has regained his sight.
Apart from minor pain he experiences once in a while, he struggled to further his education and currently, he is undergoing the mandatory one year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Sokoto State.
For 16-year-old Emmanuel Davou, a member of the Boy Scout he died with the suicide bombers while preventing them from gaining entrance into the church a heroic move which had also saved many lives from being wasted.
He was described as hero of the sad incident, especially as he knew that the people meant bad for the church but he stood against their wish with his blood.
His struggle with the suicide bombers who were determined to enter into the church to wreak havoc on worshippers reminded people of how painful he died.
Pwol Pwajok, his elder brother could not hold back his tears. Most members of the church also burst into tears when his name was mention during the memorial service.
Pwajok said Emmanuel’s body was mutilated, explaining how different parts of his body were assembled for burial at the family burial ground.
He said since the incident, flashes of how Emmanuel died had remained constantly with him, adding that, “the memorial service refreshes our memory about how Emmanuel and 13 others died during the 2012 suicide explosion. It was a beautiful initiative for the church to have built a fountain in their names to remember the victims.
“The incident has gone but how it happened still remains fresh in our memory, the church that day looks as if the incident was fresh, this is to tell you how sober it was.”
The death of Francis MadoKutok that fateful day was pathetic. He had finished the mass and left the church premises; he returned to pay his monthly dues for Men fellowship when the explosion took place.
His first son, Choji Raphael who was in the church was busy helping others to survive believing that his father had gone home. It was later in the day when they got home, he discovered that his aged father was not at home.
He started asking people around when it was getting to nightfall, if someone saw his father. Raphael went back to the church and discovered the walking stick and the cap of his father which was burnt half way.
That confirmed to him that his father was among the victims. He started moving from one hospital to another, checking the survivals and their morgues but the body was not found. He kept asking until a driver with Plateau Specialist Hospital Jos told him that the corpse of his father was taken from the scene and buried at Zaria Road cemetery.
The family members were bitter and wanted to exhume the corpse for reburial at the family cemetery but they were advised not to.
Raphael said the family members needed to have something at home to indicate that Pa Francis was dead. They dug a grave at the family burial ground and buried the walking stick and the burnt cap.
He noted that the death was a painful and pathetic one that threw the family into a traumatic condition. Each member of the deceased family was taken for a one week trauma healing exercise in Kaduna State to enable them forget the shock and gory manner their family members died.
“In that blast, people were killed, including my father and one of my tenants. We didn’t know that our father was involved in the blast. He used to go for 8:30a.m mass and he doesn’t waste time, what delayed him that day was that he went to pay dues for men fellowship, that was what wasted his time.
“I was in the church when the blast took place. We all ran out to assist the victims without knowing that our father was among the victims, we went round hospitals searching until an ambulance’s driver told us that the body of the old man was buried in Zaria Road cemetery, we didn’t see his corpse.
“What we saw was his walking stick and cap that confirmed he died in the blast. We buried the cap, walking stick and the uniform of men fellowship at home because our children can ask us tomorrow where is the grave of their grandfather and we will point to it. My tenant died on the spot, he was coming from COCIN Church, and he was trapped by the gate of our church.”
The Apostolic Administrator of Jos Archdiocese and Coadjutor Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese, Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, said the subtle discrimination and attacks on Catholics should motivate them to greater witness and commitment to the gospel values of Christ.
He said the Catholic Church was a target of suicide bombers and currently, priests and Rev. Sisters are being kidnapped across the country, and ransom being demanded and said such action portrays Nigeria in bad light.
“The challenge to our Catholic faith and identity goes on even today, this time, coming not only from non-Christians, also from some persons who profess the same Christian faith as we do.
“This subtle discrimination and attack must motivate Catholics to greater witness and commitment to the gospel values, Catholic Church doctrines, traditions and social teachings.
The archbishop maintained that, the incident has propelled St. Finbarr’s parishioners to greater spiritual heights, drew them closer and united for the progress of the Catholic faith in the parish and beyond.
He said every 11th March, the Church will continue to gather and pray. “We pray that what happened here will never happen again. For those who are doing evil among us, they should stop that.
“The Catholic Church is a target, when you kidnap a priest or a Rev. Sister it is bad, we are destroying Nigeria, because whenever you kidnap any of them, the whole world gets to know and it portrays Nigeria in bad light, even investors would not want to come here. I beg criminals to have a change of heart starting from now,” the Archbishop maintained.
In his message, the Parish Priest of St. Finbarr’s, Fr. Godfrey Gopep, said: “For the love of St. Finbarr’s Catholic Church Rayfield, our 14 Martyrs laid their lives.
“For the love of the 14 Martyrs, St. Finbarr’s Parish has built a Memorial Fountain in their honour and memory.
“It is a tradition in the Catholic Church that the dead are remembered and this dead was so peculiar, people came to worship God and did not return home, at a blow, we lost 14 members.
“Forgetting them is not a possible thing, so every year as a tradition in the church, we gather together on the date that they died to celebrate mass to remember them. We believe that there is life after death that was why we remember the dead.
“As the Bible said nothing unholy can see the face of God but we also believe that the living can pray from death and He can grant them pardon. The victims died rendering service to God and they where providing security to the church as a way of their service to God.”
The Fountain has the pictures and names of the 14 deceased persons, which include: Tari Benjamin, Roseline Sunday, Henry Raphael Chuwang, Christiana Henry Chuwang and Emmanuel NdatKanke.
Others are, Rose Nyam Dominic, Monday Pam John, Faith NwabuezeAkpe, Victor Dakogol, Alexander Dalyop, Da Mado Francis Kurtok, Regina David, Emmanuel Chuwang David and Simon Joseph Albashi.
St. Finbarr’s Catholic Church Rayfield was the second church attacked by suicide bombers in 2012 after the headquarters of Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN), Jos, Plateau were four persons lost their lives including the suicide bombers.
Since then, church worshippers in the state have been going to church in pains. They are compelled to park their vehicles and trek for over 100 metres to the church.
Most churches in the state have fortified their security measures by mountaining strong and high barricades to prevent easy access to churches by evil men. Thorough stop and search was also introduced by churches to checkmate activities of evil men.