Small Christian community forced to live their faith in secret
Somalia is one of the most unstable countries in the world. For decades chaos has reigned in a land where the overwhelming majority are Muslims. According to the report on Religious Freedom published by the Pontifical Foundation for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Somalia is one of the countries where there is the most severe persecution against Christians.
Despite all these difficulties, there is still a small community of Somali Christians living in Mogadishu consisting of 30 people who are all elderly. They live in hiding for fear of reprisals from Islamic fundamentalists. But, secretly, they keep their faith as the most precious gift ever made to them.
Stefano Tollu, military chaplain of the Italian contingent of Eutm Somalia – the training and training mission funded by the European Union – managed to get in touch with one of them. They held a brief meeting so as not to arouse suspicion and draw too much attention.
However, in spite of being short, it was a very intense meeting, full of human and spiritual significance. “I had the opportunity to meet Moses (fictitious name),” says Fr Tollu, Salesian missionary and now a priest in the diocese of Faenza, in Italy.
“He is a Christian who grew up in the reality of the Italian Protectorate and then in independent Somalia but is still very close to our country. Many consider him the spokesman for Somali Catholics. He says his community is on the verge of extinction, ” says Fr Tollu.
For centuries, in Somalia people followed a very tolerant version of Sufi Islam with other religions. However, in the past twenty years, an intolerant version of the Koranic faith has become entrenched. Al Qaeda and its local branch Al-Shabaab now pose a continuing threat to non-fundamentalist Muslims and Christians. In recent months, Islamic State has also arrived in the country, in the Puntland area.
However, danger lurks even within the Christians’ own families. Fr Tollu says that Moses explained that “those born in the 90’s have become intolerant and do not understand the elders who profess Christianity. That is why the elders flee, away from their children and grandchildren. “
Moses showed the Italian priest a list of Christians who died recently, some from natural causes and others as a result of violence. “I promised that I would remember them at Holy Mass,” said the priest, recalling that, according to the Somali Christian, “some have been killed by their own grandchildren.”
“Violence is in our own homes and we, who are few, risk our lives every day,” explained Moses. The few faithful Somali Catholics cannot receive spiritual assistance either: “At this moment,” Fr Tollu concludes, “there are no conditions of security that would enable a priest to carry out his pastoral work in Mogadishu. I hope that in the future, once the country has been liberated from the terrorist threat, it will be possible to create the conditions necessary for a Christian presence in the city and, from that, cordial relations with the brothers of the Muslim faith. I promised to pray for them during Mass. We are united in daily prayer, we are brothers in Christ, even though today they are forced to hide their faith. “