Photo: Women hold signs to demand release of abducted Nigerian schoolgirls. (CNS photo/Akintunde Akinleye, Reuters)

The horror of the abduction of young women in a school in Northern Nigeria by Boko Haram has finally awakened a large part of the population to the terrorist exploitation of young men forced into being “soldiers” at nine and ten and young women being abducted and made into exploited objects and virtual slaves, a reality that has been convulsing the African bush country now for many years. A very good opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reminds us of a few facts that some do not want to admit. It begins with the name Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language, is best translated into “Non Muslim education is forbidden.”

This is a moniker chosen to maintain the tribal opposition to the education of women and their use as objects by men. In her WSJ article Ayaan Hirsi Ali also tells us that the formal name of the Boko Haram group is “The Fellowship of the People of the Tradition for Preaching and Holy War.” There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind and no hesitation on the part of any government to recognize that this is a terrorist group that needs to be contained and have their ability to continue to act against young men and women brought to a complete halt. For our part we must be clear that violence only produces more violence that leads always to destruction based on hatred that is contrary to the most basic of God’s law and human dignity.

When Cardinal Dolan and I were in Jordan this past week we visited the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary who have a hospital in Karak that we help support through CNEWA (Catholic Near East Welfare Association). In light of the Boko Haram violence in Nigeria I mentioned a book I was reading with a similar theme. Thirty Girls by New Yorker, Susan Minot, tells the true story of a convent school for young teens in Uganda where another terrorist group, The Lord’s Resistance Army, headed by Joseph Kony, kidnapped 139 girls from the school.

The Sister in charge went after the kidnappers and had to make a baleful and heartrending decision. To save 109 she had to leave 30 behind with the Lord’s Resistance Army. To my surprise, I discovered that the school was and still is run by sisters of the Franciscan at the hospital who also are the same sisters who founded St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn. The Sister who was the principal at that school is now in southern Arabia but her sisters told me of her trauma and of how she never stopped trying to get the 30 girls released or to find ways to help them escape. Two died trying to escape. Most of the other 28 have escaped but suffer various traumas from their experiences. To this day the Sister wakes at night from the horror of the memories of what happened and her efforts to rescue her students.

In the midst of tragedy and horror the Lord gives us such examples of our own who live their vocation and seek no glory except God’s. That Sister, whose real name I now have, and the others who worked there and continue to work there give witness that God’s love becomes very concrete and real through these women religious. Without them, what hope would so many youngsters be able to have in themselves and their futures?

I highly recommend Susan Minot’s book. Even more I ask that you join me in daily prayer for these youngsters who are kidnapped, turned into male soldiers or female slaves, and have had their youth stolen from them and their future often destroyed. May God protect them and may we be their intercessors even as we continue to thanks God and offer help to the brave women who offer these youngsters hope, dignity and the possibility of life without fear under the protection of a loving God.

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