CHRISTIANS IN BURKINA FASO ARE BECOMING INCREASINGLY FEARFUL FOR THEIR LIVES

The murder of a missionary in Burkina Faso reflects the alarming situation into which the country is sliding

 “Their vehicle was returning from a meeting in Togo when, just a few kilometres after the frontier, they were ambushed by terrorists who had just murdered four policemen and burned down a customs post. The armed men stopped the vehicle and forced the passengers to disembark. Then they took the priest to one side and shot him in the head.” This was the account of Father Jacob Lompo, the bursar for the diocese of Fada N’Gourma, who was speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) about the murder of the Spanish missionary Father Antonio Cesar Fernández.

The attack took place on Friday 15 February when this 72-year-old Spanish priest was returning to Burkina Faso together with two other Salesian religious – both of whom escaped unharmed from the attack.

“It is the first time that something like this has happened in this area. They have never experienced anything of the kind before. But it is undoubtedly true that we have recently seen worrying activities by gangs of bandits and terrorists”, said a source close to ACN, which prefers to remain anonymous . “There are areas bordering on the diocese of Tenkodogo and Fada N’Gourma where it is no longer possible to celebrate Holy Mass, because in some of the villages there have been abductions and hostagetakings.”

The murder of this priest is just one more misfortune in the tragic chain of events that is afflicting the country. According to Father Lompo, in the diocese of Fada N’Gourma “a number of communities and churches have been forced to close down because jihadist groups have been going through the villages threatening the inhabitants and demanding that they convert to Islam.”

“Many of the Christians are terrified and have fled. The parish priest has had to go looking for his catechists, who have been intimidated, and relocate them to other, safer places. A congregation of religious sisters has also had to move because of the danger”, he told ACN.

This climate of fear is affecting above all the north, the east and the Sahel zone where, according to Father Lompo, “600 state schools have had to close down on account of the terrorist threats.”

“The most alarming reports in recent months have come to us from the diocese of Fada N’Gourma and above all from the frontier region with Niger, where the insecurity is acute, especially in the forest region. So this recent attack and the murder of Father Antonio Cesar in the south of the country, closer to the border with Ghana and Togo, is really worrying”, says Rafael D’Aqui, ACN’s section head with responsibility for the projects in Burkina Faso.

“From a geographical point of view, the problem of insecurity and radicalisation that initially existed on the border with Mali has then extended towards the east, to the border with Niger, and in the last year also to the southeast of the country – for example in the areas close to Pama, where we had already had reports in the past of radicalisation, and of insecurity among the Christian community. But the murder of this Salesian priest on Friday took place some 130 km from there. It seems as though the terrorists and guerrilla fighters are trying to encircle the frontiers of Burkina Faso. This is something new and it is really alarming”, Mr D’Aqui explained.

“What is especially shocking is the fact that they should murder in this way a priest and religious who has given his life to bring about development and worked with the young people, a man who loved this country where the social work of the Catholic Church in education and healthcare has brought major benefits to everyone, and not just to the Christians. It saddens me greatly, for this attack is not simply on the life of a single person but on all the country”, added D’Aqui, who recently travelled to Burkina Faso to visit some of the projects supported by ACN. And concludes: “We have to pray for peace and for an end to this situation, which is creating a psychosis that is harmful for the country”.