Human chain protects worshippers from Boko Haram attacks in Cameroon

"Life is too dangerous there for people with white skin."

By Antonia von Alten 

NEW YORK—Last July, Boko Haram suicide attacks killed more than 30 people and injured hundreds in the town of Maroua, Cameroon. In the wake of that violence, the open-air celebrations of Mass in the Diocese of Maroua-Mokolo are surrounded by a human chain protecting congregations as large as 3,000.

Despite the fear of terrorism, Bishop Bruno Ateba told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the people have retained their sense of joy: “We like to sing and dance during Holy Mass, for the Lord is our refuge,” the prelate said, adding: “We feel as though it is Good Friday. Yet we are not giving up hope.”

Boko Haram is stalking Cameroon, especially in the northern region close to Nigeria. On Sept. 3, 2015, two women blew themselves up in a crowded market place, causing a bloodbath.

Bishop Bruno Ateba.2.jpg

Bishop Ateba reported that there are more than a 100,000 people in the area who have been driven from their homes. Half of them—mostly refugees from Nigeria—are stranded in a camp some 25 miles from Maroua. Some 50,000 Cameroonians have been driven from their home; most have sought refuge with relatives or found shelter in public building.

The bishop has withdrawn foreign missionaries from the frontier region. “Life is too dangerous there for people with white skin,” he said, adding that tourism, an important source of income for the region, has also taken a hit. “We‘ve been brought to a standstill,” he said, calling on especially on the West to “help us to achieve peace. Without peace we can do nothing. The international community has all the resources to put an end to the terrorism of Boko Haram.”

To ultimately stop Boko Haram, said the bishop, dialogue between Christians and Muslims is essential. The Catholic Church has a good reputation in Cameroon, where 70 percent of its population of 20 million people are Christians; Muslims account for about a fifth of the population. The bishop said that Muslims make regular use of Catholic health centers and also send their children to Catholic schools.

In 2014, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) spent more than $1M in support of the pastoral mission of the Church in Cameroon, including the training of seminarians in the Diocese of Maroua-Makolo. A big project underway is the construction of a cathedral in Maroua. ACN recently helped build a multi-purpose hall close to the refugee camp outside Maroua, where Catholic refugees can come for prayer and Mass.  

Bishop Atebo among the faithful; ACN photo

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