TANZANIA – Another Catholic Church burnt down
Yet another Catholic church has been burnt down in Tanzania, the third in the last four months. In the latest arson attack unidentified perpetrators burned a Catholic church in the village of Nyarwele, located in the north-western region of Kagera, bordering Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda. The church was completely destroyed together with parish documents, chairs, tables, objects of worship and generators. No group has claimed responsibility for the latest arson attack but previous ones were carried out by Muslims.
Unfortunately, setting fire to Christian places of worship in this part of Tanzania is nothing new. Earlier this year, the same fate befell two Protestant churches – the Tanzania Assemblies of God and Pentecostal Assemblies of God churches – said Kagera Regional Police Commander Augustine Ollomi. He added that seven suspects are currently helping police with investigations following the burning down of other churches in the region. Local police have asked the community to work together to discover how the fire happened. Almachius Vicent Rweyongeza, Catholic Bishop of the area, appealed for calm and requested that locals co-operate with police to catch those responsible.
In September last year, in the same region of Kagera, in the space of a week 6 churches were destroyed in arson attacks, including the Catholic Church of Kitundu. At the time of the 2015 attacks, the secretary of the local Bukoba Pastors’ Fellowship said. “Since 2013 we have had over 13 churches torched here in Kagera and no-one has been held accountable. This is not acceptable.”
A pastor of one of the destroyed churches, Vedasto Athanas of Living Water International church, said Christians in the area are frightened as attacks on churches have increased over the past few years. Since 2013 there have been at least 13 arson attacks on church buildings.
“What is worrying us is that the burning of the three churches happened within a span of two hours,” he said. “What is even more worrying is that we have been receiving threats from Muslim extremists that they want churches reduced in this area.” Another church leader said authorities have refused to grant local Christians permission to construct churches on the pretext that lands are designated only as residential areas.
Some church leaders believe that one point of contention has to do with Christians slaughtering animals. Muslim extremists in the area have objected to this as they consider animal slaughter is forbidden for non-Muslims.
Even though their churches are being targeted, Christians in the region have not lost their spirit. Despite the destruction of their buildings, people continue to pray. “Those who think that destroying our church means we won’t pray, they are wrong… we have a big tree near the church and will continue meeting there for prayers,” said Father Fortunatus Bijura, one of the priests who worked in the destroyed church.