Africa is at the heart of the Holy Father’s prayer intention for the month of May. This is timely and urgent, considering the increasing spate of deadly attacks against Christians on the continent.
In this month of May, Pope Francis is calling on all Catholics to look to the African continent with hope.
Focusing on praying for the Church in Africa this month, the Holy Father in “The Pope Video” thanks the priests, religious, laity and missionaries for their work to create dialogue and reconciliation in the African society.
Despite its abundant mineral resources, Africa is considered the poorest continent in the world. Of its more than 1.1 billion inhabitants, 215 million are Catholic. Africa has continued to be a continent where wars, famines and religious conflicts take place. In many regions, Islamist terrorist groups are putting the lives of Christians in danger. In addition, corruption, crime and natural disasters threaten the lives of the faithful.
ACN has likewise reported a number of threats against Catholic communities in Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Cameroun and various parts of the continent, which have forced Sunday Masses to be cancelled and even obliged communities of religious sisters to vacate their convents. “The jihadist groups are going through the villages threatening local inhabitants and demanding they convert to Islam, shutting down Christian communities and places of worship, and also schools and health centres”, Rafael D’Aqui, Head of ACN’s Africa Section explains.
Last Sunday, 12th May which was Good Shepherd Sunday, a group of 20 or so armed men stormed into the parish of Dablo, in central northern Burkina Faso shooting, just as the congregation was singing the Gloria. The Priest, Father Simeon Yampa and five members of the congregation were shot and killed.
The chapel is very small, but, including those standing outside, there were around a hundred worshippers at the time. Three bullets struck the Tabernacle. Father Simeon tried to rescue the altar servers, by ushering them into the sacristy, but the terrorists went through the church and discovered him, shooting him dead on the spot.
“There was a general panic, and people were terrified. The killers forced the faithful to remove the crucifixes and religious items they were wearing and put them down in front of the altar. They threatened the entire congregation before leaving, warning them that they would return and that if the women were not all covered in veils, they would kill them all. Then they set fire to the sacristy, the crucifixes and all the liturgical objects, and also to a vehicle standing outside the church. Then they went to the dispensary and burned the vehicle there also, so that nobody could escape”, explains Rafael D’Aqui, who heads ACN’s Africa desk for the area including Burkina Faso.
Just two weeks or so ago, on 28 April, Pierre Ouedraogo, Protestant pastor was murdered together with two of his children and three other worshippers, in an attack on his church in Silgadji, around 60 km from Djibo, likewise in the north of the country.
This means that three members of the Christian clergy have been assassinated in 2019. In addition to Father Simeon Yampa, the Catholic priest murdered in Dablo, and the Protestant pastor Pierre Ouedraogo killed in Silgadji, another priest was murdered on 15 February, Salesian missionary Father César Fernández, of Spanish origin, who was shot dead during an attack on a customs post in the south of the country close to the frontier with Togo. Also missing, whereabouts unknown, is Father Joel Yougbare, a Catholic priest abducted on 17 March on the border with Mali.
“The Church in Burkina Faso is suffering greatly from the situation, but impresses me with its fortitude. The international community needs to respond, rather than to leave Burkina Faso to become a fiefdom of the Islamist fundamentalists. Let us pray that peace may return to this country”, he continues.
The parish house in Dablo, which stands next to the chapel and forms part of the parish, which is dedicated to Blessed Isidore Bakanja and includes 18 other villages, was built just six years ago with help from ACN.
Rafael D’Aqui, profoundly moved by the events, went on to explain that “ACN helped this community in 2013 because, although they had had a chapel for many years, they wanted to establish a proper parish there where there would be a stable presence of the Church. In the financial report sent to ACN after completion of the presbytery, the priest had described how this was a historic moment, filled with emotion, for the entire Christian community. They were so happy at the prospect of having a permanent priestly presence, supporting the eight catechists who were already there. It was a dream come true for them, and their joy was plain to see on all their faces”, he recalls.
Let us, together with the Pope, pray in this month of May “that the Church in Africa, through the commitment of its members, may be the seed of unity among her peoples and a sign of hope for this continent”.