“The reason I’m sitting here before you,” Bishop Oliver Doeme tells me mid-interview, “is the grace of God.” For a moment I think this is a pious generalisation about divine providence. But that’s not what Bishop Doeme means. He means that, by rights, he shouldn’t really be alive.
The bishop’s diocese is Maiduguri in Nigeria – the epicentre of terrorism in the country. Nigeria is where Boko Haram is most active. Founded in 2002, the Islamist group claims affiliation with ISIS, and is no less demonic in its aims and methods. Among its chief aims is to kill as many Christians and to blow up as many churches as possible. Bishop Doeme is an obvious target.
The story of Maiduguri’s Catholics is one of terrible suffering. “To experience what we are going through is enough martyrdom,” says Bishop Doeme. But it is also something else: a story of supernatural intervention, and of the immediate power of prayer. For Boko Haram has run into trouble – partly thanks to a successful campaign by the Nigerian military, but also, it seems, for more supernatural reasons.
In 2014, Bishop Doeme had a vision while praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus appeared to him, and handed the bishop a sword – which, as soon as he received it, turned into a rosary. Jesus then repeated the words: “Boko Haram is gone.” Bishop Doeme decided at once that this was an invitation to spread devotion to the rosary. So he began doing just that.
Maiduguri had always been a Marian diocese – when Bishop Doeme was installed in 2009, at the age of 48, he consecrated the diocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a consecration which has been repeated every year.
But after the vision, the bishop wrote a pastoral letter encouraging the daily saying of the rosary – and especially, rosary processions – in families, schools and parishes. At his own residence there is a rosary procession every evening; if he isn’t there, his secretary or someone else will lead it. Every Saturday, meanwhile, Mass is offered throughout the diocese in honour of Our Lady.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection