Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 30, 2023 / 08:27 am (CNA).
A missionary priest working in one of the most dangerous countries in the world said this month that “immense” work from religious leaders and mediators is needed to heal the “physical and psychological” damage wrought by years of anti-Christian Islamic violence there.
Father Pierre Rouamba, the prior-general of the French-founded Missionary Brothers of the Countryside, told Aid to the Church in Need that his group has been working at “systematically opening doors to the Gospel” in West Africa, including Burkina Faso, where the religious order’s regional headquarters are located.
Burkina Faso is known for its sky-high crime rates, much of it driven by Islamic terrorism and anti-Christian violence. The online data website World Population Review lists the country as among the top 20 most dangerous in the world.
Rouamba said Christians in Burkina Faso “are affected on a daily basis by the appalling actions of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.”
During Pentecost this year, he said, “many people were killed or seriously injured and had to be airlifted out” from the region.
“The terrorists have also seized livestock and are doing everything they can to get the population to either convert [to Islam] or evacuate,” he added, noting that many women are kidnapped into sex slavery while refugees are “left to wander around in the forest with no possessions, and many die due to lack of food and care.”
Burkina Faso last year topped the list of countries worldwide with the most anti-Christian attacks, Rouamba said. Regional evangelization “is recent, dating back no more than 150 years, and in most regions less than 100 years,” he said.
The priest said the religious order is working on opening a regional ministry house in the Diocese of Ouagadougou, based out of the nation’s capital of the same name. That house will work to both spread the Gospel message and train lay ministers to “send them on mission to difficult places.”
The religious order, Rouamba said, is most pointedly concerned with “forgiveness” after years of brutal religious violence in the country. “Forgetting,” he said, “is impossible.”
“This is one of the reasons why we would like to set up support units to offer spiritual and psychological support,” he said. “Many people come to us simply to be listened to.”
Rouamba described the extent of the violence that citizens of the country have witnessed. “Many people have seen their loved ones’ throats slit, beheaded, raped, or be reduced to sexual slavery,” he said. “Children have been born because of these rapes.”
“When all this is over how will we be able to have a discourse that is consistent with the Gospel?” he asked. “We will have to heal all these wounds, whether physical or psychological. The pastoral work promises to be immense.”
Aid to the Church in Need says on its website that while Burkina Faso has “long been considered an example of peaceful coexistence between religions,” since 2015 significant parts of the country have become “hotspots” of extremist violence.
As a result of the violence, “more than 1 million people are on the run, entire towns resemble ghost towns, countless parishes have been deserted, and more than 1,000 schools have been closed,” the group said.
ACN spokeswoman María Berdié told CNA the organization supported dozens of projects in Burkina Faso last year alone, including transportation for clergy and religious, “food and health security of internally displaced families,” the building of at least one church, the “formation of 27 major seminarians and 31 minor seminarians,” and numerous other initiatives.
The roots of Aid to the Church in Need, headquartered in Germany, stretch back to the 1940s. The organization was recognized in 1984 as a Universal Public Association of Pontifical Right and in 2011 as a Pontifical Foundation of the Catholic Church.
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