LAGOS, Nigeria — In separate Ash Wednesday homilies, Catholic bishops advised Nigerians to use Lent to pray for peace and stability.

“We are in a real mess in Nigeria. We need God’s mercy. … Without God’s mercy, we are finished,” Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo of Oyo said Feb. 17.

“During this period, let us all fight the many pandemics that assail Nigeria, for COVID-19 is not the only one,” Badejo said.

“Corruption, bad governance, barefaced falsehood in official circles, nepotism, perversion of justice, theft of public funds, incessant kidnap for ransom unemployment, wickedness in high and low places are all claiming victims every day and creating more casualties,” the bishop continued.

“We must identify with the victims of these tragedies and help them,” he said.

“Christians especially must speak truth to power, but also to sinners wherever they may be found in politics, the economy or in the civil service.”

He advised the country’s leaders to lead honestly, courageously and purposefully and stop the injustice, violence and bloodshed all over Nigeria. He warned that whoever has the power to do so but fails to act deserves God’s punishment.

Nigerian bishops have been critical of the government and accused its leaders of corruption, nepotism and failing to protect the citizens.

Bishop Gabriel Ghieakhomo Dunia of Auchi urged Christians to use Lent to pray for the peace and stability of Nigeria and actively participate in the 40-day adoration prayers.

“The Lord God has taught us that prayer, fasting and almsgiving are remedies for our sins; by this, we empty ourselves and see nothing in the world. The prayers of thousands of Christians observing Lent will go a long way to ensure a peaceful and prosperous country for all citizens,” he said.

Similarly, Bishop Stephen Dami Mamza of Yola urged Christians to pray more for Nigeria, especially against insecurity and for those in leadership positions.

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto said Lent was not just receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday, participating in the Stations of the Cross and abstaining from meat on Fridays.

“There is an urgent need for a renewal and a return to seeing Lent as really and truly a period of a genuine show of repentance and prayer,” he said. He also urged parents to lead by example.

“Children can be encouraged to fast from their favorite snacks such as ice cream, chocolate or biscuits and the likes. Children should be encouraged to understand the season and to use this time to pray and sacrifice for other children, especially those who are not as fortunate as they themselves are. They should also be exposed to almsgiving and encouraged to participate,” he said.

In Warri, Bishop John Oke Afareha advised Christians not to perform their fasting like the hypocrite by showing it out to everyone.

“Prayers, fasting and almsgiving must be done in secret,” he said.