LAGOS, Nigeria — The Catholic Church in Nigeria has warned the various political parties fielding presidential candidates for the 2023 general elections not to have Muslims as both their presidential candidates and their running mates.

The statement from the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria said: “We must not lose sight of the fact that the unity of this country has, over the years, been maintained by a delicate balancing of the religious and the regional.” It added that the need for balance applied to the heads of the various military formations and the different government agencies.

The statement was released in Abuja June 14.

Nigeria — about 53 percent Muslim and 46 percent Christian — has seen an increase in religiously motivated attacks, such as blasphemy killings. A June 5 attack inside St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo during Mass left least 40 people dead and more than 120.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, considered unusual for southwest Nigeria, which is seen as more peaceful than the northern part of the country. Some Nigerian officials believe the attack was masterminded by the Islamic State group in West Africa.

Media reported rumors that some of the parties would field candidates from the same religion for the election. The Christian Association of Nigeria, the umbrella body overseeing the activities of Christians in Nigeria, had warned against political parties toying with the idea.

In their statement, the bishops said that, in the past, there would have been nothing wrong with a Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket because of mutual trust. However, it added people must believe those seeking political office were doing so for the common good, and that could not be said in today’s political climate.

With the present crises and division in the nation, a Muslim-Muslim ticket would be most insensitive and a tacit endorsement of the negative voices of many nonstate actors who had been threatening the nation’s unity and peaceful coexistence, the bishops said.

“We, therefore, strongly advise those political parties toying with the divisive agenda to have a rethink by presenting a more inclusive ticket, while calling on all people of goodwill to resist this budding injustice that may be hatched against a cross section of the people.”

The statement also condemned the Owo attack and said the massacre was not just an attack on humanity, but also a slap on the sovereignty of Nigeria and an indictment of the federal government.

“May God grant eternal rest to the departed, comfort those who mourn and heal the wounded,” the statement said.

The bishops also described as commendable the process, initiated by the Independent National Electoral Commission, for the 2023 general elections in Nigeria. It praised the electoral body for ensuring that the National Assembly passed the Electoral Act 2023, which would allow the use of electronic devices for accreditation of potential voters, capturing and the transmission of results, and the prompt release of an election timetable.