As he presided at the burial ceremony of a murdered priest on Tuesday, a Nigerian archbishop urged Catholics to pray for the killers’ conversion.

Archbishop Matthew Man-oso Ndagoso made the appeal on June 1 at the burial of Fr. Alphonsus Bello at Our Lady of Apostles Catholic Church in Kaduna, north-western Nigeria, reported ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

“We are here to pray for the repentance and conversion of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes,” the archbishop of Kaduna said in his homily.

He added: “Pray that God will give the victims of these criminal activities and their loved ones the grace to forgive so that they do not become victims twice.”

The Nigerian archbishop also called on members of the congregation to forgive the perpetrators.

“Painful as it is, if we are not to remain victims forever, we have to take the right step moving forward, namely, forgive those who have done this to us even if we do not know them,” he said.

Fr. Bello was found dead May 21, the morning after his parish, St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in the Diocese of Sokoto, was attacked by armed bandits. He was 33.

He was kidnapped along with another priest, Fr. Joe Keke, who remains missing.

Sokoto Bishop Matthew Kukah is spearheading negotiations to secure the 75-year-old priest’s release.

In his homily, Ndagoso emphasized the need to seek “justice and fair play for all.”

Those who practice forgiveness become “true disciples of our Master who did not only pray for the forgiveness of his executioners but also made excuses for them,” he said.

“He prayed: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,’” Ndagoso said. “The murderer of Fr. Alphonsus and many others like them do not know what they do.”

He continued: “We cannot talk about genuine forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace without first of all working for justice and fair play for all."

“A situation where equal citizens are treated unequally because of ethnic, religious, political and social affiliation does not augur well for peace and peaceful co-existence.”

The 61-year-old archbishop said that priests in the country “live in challenging and even frightening times.”

“We pastoral agents are subjected to all kinds of hardship but never distressed. We see no way out but never despair. We are pursued but never cut off. We are knocked down but still have some life in us,” he commented.

“We carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus too may be visible in our body.”

Addressing clergy, he said: “Be sure of this, the God who called us and entrusted His work to us is with us because He is Emmanuel. And this is his assurance to each of us.”

He called on Nigeria’s security forces to “wake up from their slumbers” and go after “religious fanatics, bandits, kidnappers, terrorists, AK-47-wielding herders and opportunists who are criminals in every sense of the word, killing and maiming innocent Nigerians regardless of religion, ethnicity and political leanings.”

But he also expressed appreciation for security officers who often put their lives on the line to defend Nigeria’s citizens, saying that “without them, the situation would have been worse.”

“There is always room for improvement. Our security agents need to work harder especially in the area of intelligence gathering, sharing, and surveillance,” he said, urging the government to invest in the country’s security personnel.

“Government should of necessity invest more in this area by adequately equipping them and take good care of their essential needs to motivate them,” he said, noting that citizens required better security to take advantage of the country’s infrastructure.

“These infrastructures can only be useful when there is peace and security enabling free and secure movements,” he said.

“The protection of human life and security of property are of paramount importance to the country today more than anything else.”

On May 31, during the Vigil Mass for Fr. Bello, Bishop Kukah faulted the Nigerian government for laxity in ensuring security for citizens, reported ACI Africa.