Terror in Burkina Faso: 'No creed can justify violence'

"Rather than radicalization, what is actually taking place is a slow process of Arabization among the younger generation."

Rafael D’Aquí, who oversees projects in francophone Africa for international papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Burkina Faso. The country was in the headlines following the Aug. 13, 2017 terror attack by suspected Islamist extremists on a restaurant in the capital city of Ouagadougou, which killed 17 people. Thus far, though the influence in Burkina Faso of Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries has been growing, Muslim-Christian relations have been peaceful in the country. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world with an extremely low index of human development, which translates into low life expectancy and a low level of formal education. 

By Maria Lozano

What do we know about the Aug. 13 attackers?
Thus far, no specific group has claimed responsibility for the attack. The president of the bishops’ conference of Burkina Faso and Niger, Archbishop Paul Ouedraogo of Bobo-Dioulasso denounced the attack in the strongest terms, saying “no creed can justify violence.”

Though the country has seen few Islamist terror attacks, there was the Jan. 16, 2016 attack on a hotel in the capital city, which killed 30.
That attack was attributed to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); it was aimed, just like the recent act of terror, at foreigners. Nonetheless, I do not believe that these terrible events have changed the good relations between local Christians and Muslims. Local Muslims have rejected extremism.

How has the Christian community reacted?
Auxiliary Bishop Leopold Ouedraogo of Ouagadougou spoke movingly just days after the attack, on the Feast of the Assumption at Yagma, the largest Marian shrine in the country. Thousands of people had gathered there. Bishop Leopold expressed his joy at seeing that so many people were not afraid of “those who can kill the body, but who cannot kill the soul.” He declared: “Some people might think that the events of August 13th might have discouraged us, but we are here because ‘if the Lord does not build up the house, in vain do the builders labor.’ And if the Lord is with us, we need fear nothing. To the families of the victims we send a message of compassion and sympathy. We suffer with them and hope that through our prayers the Lord, who is a just Judge, will take them into his eternal Kingdom, because they have not deserved this.”

BurkinaFaso_Aug.22_2017 preparing the field for sowing.A.jpg

More than 60 percent of the population is Muslim. Is there not a danger of radicalization?
Rather than radicalization, what is actually taking place is a slow process of Arabization among the younger generation. There are many opportunities offered by the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, notably in the form of scholarships and employment. In a country in which approx.  60% of the population is Muslim, the influence of the Islamic countries is considerable. There are NGOs here from Qatar, Kuwait and other countries of the region which aim to advance social development—but along with that they are exporting their own ideology and interpretation of the Koran. These organizations are prepared to dig wells, build mosques and help the poor—but they focus their aid exclusively on Muslims. By contrast, the Church, even as a small minority in the country’s north, provides healthcare and education to all, not just Christians. It pays particular attention to girls.

Why for the girls?
Sadly, there is still the practice of marrying girls off at a very young age and women are subject to violence. Tackling this problem is a matter of education. The Church is aims to protect young girls by offering them the opportunity of studying in a boarding school setting. The Church in Burkina Faso is also striving to draw the attention of society to the condition of women.

What experience moved you in a particular way?
I visited villages in the Diocese of Tenkodogo, where we are supporting the construction of small village chapels as well as a church. In one of the villages, I was struck by close to a 100 people working the field next to the church still under construction. The local bishop explained: “That is the catechist’s field; the people love their catechist so much that they are getting together to prepare his field for sowing.” The village chief also came; although he is not a Catholic, he comes every day to check on progress, saying that “when the Church comes here, then development also comes for the people.”

BurkinaFaso_Aug.22_2017 Baptism.A.jpg

The Church in Burkina Faso has four principal concerns: the family apostolate; the formation of catechists and educators; the life of prayer and contemplation; and the support of religious congregations. The family apostolate is crucial, because, in a poor country like this, what so many international organizations are attempting to do is to impose their own agenda, which runs contrary to the culture of life. It is important to form families according to the mind of the Gospel—open to life, responsible for the education of their children—and to create an environment in which young people can learn the true meaning and context of sexuality.

Also, the presence of priests and religious among the people is a precious treasure, and for this reason we help them to acquire a solid formation, so that they can carry out their ministry well. At the same time we cannot forget that in the midst of so much poverty it is also necessary to create spaces of prayer, or simply of spiritual repose, where the people and the missionaries can be given an opportunity to “recharge their spiritual batteries” for their day-to-day duties.

In 2016, ACN supported the Church in Burkina Faso with grants totaling close to $800,000.

Working the field; Baptism; ACN photos

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