Ike Nnachi, Abakaliki
It was a tragic Christmas eve in Ebonyi State as gunmen invaded the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church Nkweagu, Abakaliki Local Government Area and killed three parishioners.
Bishop of Abakaliki Diocese, Most Rev. Peter Nworie Chukwu confirmed the attack and killings which occurred during a vigil Mass on Sunday night.
Bishop Chukwu disclosed this at Monday’s Christmas Mass at Saint Theresa’s Cathedral Church.
He said that the killing occurred at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Nkweagu, in Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, at 11:30 pm on Sunday.
The bishop, who described the incident as sad and disheartening, prayed for the repose of the souls of the departed.
He explained that the suspected killers invaded the church while a priest was celebrating a vigil Mass and killed and injured many others.
According to Nworie, such an unfortunate act had never happened in the church in the state.
“This is the first time such an incident has happened in the church and in Ebonyi State in general,” the bishop noted.
How gunmen carried out attack – Priest
The gunmen that invaded the church premises during the vigil Mass to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ first shot a parishioner to death.
It was not immediately clear if the attack was an assassination but unconfirmed reports said the victim was a staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Ikengaonline reliably gathered that while escaping the scene, the hoodlums also killed two church guards.
The guards were members of a group known as Men of Order and Discipline (MOD).
The gunmen reportedly shot the duo for allegedly obstructing their movement and asking for the pass given to vehicles, tricycle and motorcycle owners while making their way into the church premises.
The MOD members were said to be keeping watch at the church gate and were not aware of the incident inside considering the distance.
The Chancellor of Catholic Diocese in Abakaliki, Rev Fr Mathew Opoke, stated this while celebrating Christmas Mass at St Thomas Chapel Mile 50 Abakaliki.
According to the Chancellor, the priest in charge of the parish, Rev Fr John Paul Eselu, phoned him around 1:00am narrating the ordeal.
He said: “Father Eselu in charge of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church Nkweagu called me around 1:00am today and broke a bad news to me.
“Father reported that gunmen invaded his parish during Christmas vigil Mass and killed a very big personality.
“They came in with Keke just like some other parishioners, so having achieved their aim, they were going out when MOD members at the gate requested to retrieve the gate pass but angrily, they shot two of them down.
“Father told me that having killed the MOD members, the armed robbers’ tricycle could no longer start and they abandoned it there and fled on foot.
“While you are planning how to enjoy the Christmas, others are planning how to kill and perpetrate one evil or the other,” Opoke said.
While urging members of the congregation to be security conscious, the cleric said, “Please, as you merry, beware of evil people, I will not like to hear any bad story about any of you. I pray the grace of God upon all for the full knowledge of Christ who is the reason for the season.”
According to the Diocesan Chancellor, the armed robbers also abandoned their fully loaded two guns identified as AK 49 inside the abandoned tricycle.
The Commissioner of Police, Augustina Ogbodo could not be reached for comments at the time of this report.