The bishops of southwest Nigeria have praised the country’s apparent progress towards countering the Boko Haram insurgency.

“Occurrences of senseless killing by the Boko Haram have decreased and many displaced people are apparently returning to their former homes. We prayerfully congratulate the Nigerian Army and the security forces for their sacrifice and commitment,” the Catholic bishops of the Ibadan Ecclesiastical Province said.

“We appeal to the government that the current general vigilance in the area of security be sustained so as to forestall a recurrence of the worst days of insurgency in Nigeria. In the meantime we plead that great care be taken to avoid punishing innocent people for the crimes of the guilty insurgents.”

The Islamist extremist group Boko Haram began a violent uprising in northern Nigeria in 2009. It seeks to impose an Islamic state. An estimated 20,000 people have been killed in the uprising, while 2.3 million may have been driven from their homes.

The group became notorious around the world after its partisans kidnapped over 200 girls from a school in Chibok in 2014. The group’s activities have expanded into Cameroon.

The bishops of the Ibadan region said that the public in Nigeria tends to believe that President Muhammadu Buhari is well intentioned and is working hard to address critical problems like the insurgency and corruption.

The province’s bishops issued their statement at the close of their first plenary meeting of 2016, held Jan. 18-19. The province includes the Archdiocese of Ibadan and five other dioceses.

Their message noted the Catholic Church’s Jubilee of Mercy. The year is intended “to remind all human beings of the mercy we enjoy from God the Father of all and to focus us on the role of Jesus Christ as the face and personification of God's mercy.” The bishops echoed Pope Francis’ call for God’s mercy to be manifest wherever Christians are.

“We call especially on all Catholics in Nigeria to seek God's mercy through penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy which includes the mutual forgiveness of wrongs,” they added.

The bishops outlined their “ABCs” of the Year of Mercy: ask for God’s mercy; be merciful; and communicate God’s mercy.

“That so much injustice, violence and bloodshed permeate our society today is a clear indication that we all indeed need God's mercy, for blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy,” the message continued.

The bishops praised efforts to enhance and protect “the sanctity of human life, marriage and family in all areas of life.” They have authorized a pro-life, pro-family catechesis as a handbook on Church teaching.

They also praised Catholic education efforts, while warning of a lack of resources and unjust takeovers of schools.

The bishops discussed the economic downturn in Nigeria and emphasized the need to resolve conflicts over the payment of workers’ salaries. The controversy is causing “considerable hardship” among people in many Nigerian states.

“Our leaders must avoid any sign of threat, arrogance or impunity in dealing with sensitive public challenges,” they said. “Most people are bearing the brunt of the current economic situation with everything they have and the leaders must not add more emotional trauma to their burden.”

According to the bishops, Nigerians are happy to see prosecutions for embezzlement of public funds. They called for respect for the rights and dignity of the accused. Official lawlessness is “always toxic for public sanity,” they warned.

The bishops noted the desire for peaceful co-existence and the need for “genuine, harmonious relations among religions.”

They encouraged groups and individuals in interreligious work to foster interaction and collaboration among people of different religions. In their view, such efforts will help promote mutual understanding and prevent hatred and violence.