WASHINGTON, D.C. — One morning at Nativity Catholic Church in the Brightwood neighborhood of Northwest, Washington, D.C., a religious sister from Nigeria came to the pulpit. She spoke about the plight of displaced orphans and widows whose parents and husbands were killed by the terrorist group Boko Haram.
Sir Knight Dr. Ukwandu, the Grand Knight of Blessed Tansi Nigerian Council 11496, at the time wanted to answer her call for help. He approached his fellow brother Knights about helping. It would mean expanding the council’s pro-life mission beyond the D.C. metro area, where they have been active in the National March for Life and organizations such as the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center and St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families.
“The Knights of Columbus’ mission is charity-oriented, giving support where it is needed to our local churches, our parish priests and seminarians and victims of natural and man-made disasters like religious persecutions,” Ukwandu said.
And there is a great need in Nigeria. Boko Haram, which translates to “Western education is forbidden,” is an Islamic jihadist terrorist group responsible for the deaths of at least 20,000 and the displacement of nearly 2.4 million people in northern regions of Nigeria. They have targeted Christians by killing, burning down churches and villages, raping and taking victims as hostages. In one instance, Boko Haram abducted more than 250 school girls from the predominantly Christian town Chibok in Nigeria.
The toll of Boko Haram’s persecution also has led to the displacement of 1.4 million children in Nigeria.
“The most agonizing facts are that these children, mostly infants and babies who parents have been slaughtered by Boko Haram and displaced of their homes and community, now roam the streets in search of food and shelter,” Ukwandu said.
Almost all the members of Blessed Tansi Nigerian Council 11496 are of Nigerian ancestry. They wanted to help their homeland, so they created the “Charity Works Beyond Our Shores” program, through which they would donate supplies to an orphanage. They chose to assist St. Joseph’s Home for Orphans and Destitute, an orphanage operated by the Holy Family Sisters of the Needy.
The initiative follows the spirit of the Knights of Columbus’ Christians Refugee Relief Fund — a Faith In Action program which has been primarily focused on ISIS’ genocidal persecution of Middle East Christians and other religious minorities. The Knights of Columbus was instrumental in the United States government’s commitment to provide humanitarian relief for ISIS’ victims.
The council funds the purchased baby diapers, clothes, food and other necessities sent to St. Joseph’s Home for Orphans and Destitute through various fundraisers. Initially the council was hesitant to give a cash donation for fear of it getting into the wrong hands.
“We wanted to give out items that would benefit the children directly just as we do in giving out coats for needy kids,” Ukwandu said.
On Jan. 14, 2019, the council’s past chaplain, Father John Ndidi Nwocha- SAC, (the Delegate Superior of Pallottine Congregation, Nigeria) who was transferred to a mission in Nigeria — and former district deputy Sir Knight Gervase Anamelechi delivered the supplies to the orphanage. The Holy Family Sisters of the Needy expressed their appreciation and warmest gratitude to the Knights for the necessities.
Blessed Tansi Nigerian Council 11496 will continue delivering supplies to victims of religious persecution anywhere around the world in the foreseeable future.
“This is a wake-up call to all to follow our example and assist to eradicate the ills of religious persecution and its resultant effects,” Ukwandu said.
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