Auxiliary Bishop Moses Chikwe (center) of Owerri Archdiocese in Nigeria. (Photo: Vatican News)
A Nigerian Catholic bishop who was kidnapped last month has been set free unharmed.
Auxiliary Bishop Moses Chikwe of Owerri and his driver Ndubuisi Robert were released by their kidnappers "unhurt and without ransom," said a social media post of the archdiocese based in southeast Nigeria.
The post accompanied a photo with the words "Welcome back our beloved bishop, God heard [the] prayers of his people."
Unidentified gunmen abducted Bishop Chikwe on Dec. 27 in Owerri, the capital of Imo state.
According to local media, the bishop and the driver of his official car were kidnapped. The car was later found abandoned with its occupants missing.
Nigerian bishops had urged prayers for 53-year-old Bishop Chikwe's release.
Bishop Chikwe was ordained a priest on July 6, 1996, after completing a master's degree in educational administration at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in the United States. He also served at St. Joseph's Cathedral in San Diego for six years.
On his return, he became director of education of Owerri Archdiocese and was ordained an auxiliary bishop on Dec. 12, 2019.
In a Dec. 29 statement, Archbishop Anthony Obinna of Owerri urged "all Christ's faithful and people of goodwill" to disregard reports that the kidnappers had killed Bishop Chicwe."This information is unconfirmed, misleading and does not come from the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri," he added.
During his Angelus prayer on New Year's Day, Pope Francis appealed for the release of Bishop Chikwe and his driver. The pope urged the faithful "to join the Archdiocese of Owerri's prayer in Nigeria for Bishop Moses Chikwe and his driver."Bishop Chikwe is the latest victim of a series of kidnappings that have targeted clergy in Nigeria. Earlier, priests and seminarians, not bishops, were kidnapped.
According to reports, some 53 percent of Nigeria's 200 million people are Muslims, but Christians are also numerically strong, forming 46 percent.
Nigeria has seen a rise in Islamic extremist groups such as Boko Haram, Maitatsine and Darul Islam that sometimes resort to violence to widen the Islamic faith base.
The US State Department has listed Nigeria among the worst countries for religious freedom, terming the West African nation a "country of particular concern."