Catholics in Burkina Faso are undaunted by Islamist persecution – according to their bishop – in spite of 10 attacks over the last six months in his diocese alone, including one last week, which left eight people dead and nine others injured.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Laurent Dabire of Dori, northern Burkina Faso, said his flock has refused to convert even in the face of extreme violence.
He said: “Our faithful have a great spirit of perseverance and resilience. They continue to live their faith, whatever the cost.
“Not once since 2015 have we heard of any case of desertion, abandonment or apostasy.
“The faithful are fleeing the terrorism, which they are powerless to resist, but they are keeping their faith. Even when the terrorists have threatened people, trying to force them to convert, they have not succeeded.
“The people have simply fled, bringing their faith with them.”
Between 2018 and 2019, terror attacks in Burkina Faso increased by 250 percent and in 2019 the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that around 289,000 people had fled their homes because of the violence.
Bishop Dabire said that, although the security situation was improving, it was still too dangerous to travel through parts of Burkina Faso.
He said: “After a few months of peace from April to September 2020, the territory of the diocese, which corresponds approximately to the Sahel region of Burkina Faso, has suffered at least 10 incidents of terrorist attacks, from 10th September 2020 right up to the present day.
“The people continue to be forced to leave their villages, either as a result of the attacks or because of the threats to massacre them unless they do so. Nonetheless, these attacks have diminished in number and are causing fewer deaths.
“So it could be said that the security situation has improved, although it is still impossible to travel in certain areas, which remain dangerous owing to the presence or operations of the terrorist groups.”
Bishop Dabire, who is president of the bishops’ conference for Burkina Faso and Niger, explained that in Niger ongoing terror attacks have affected the practice of the faith.
He said: “[T]he attacks have continued there as well, often with high numbers of deaths.
“There, too, the insecurity, combined with the pandemic, has caused a slowdown in pastoral activities.
“For this reason, also the two bishops from Niger have been unable to take part in our episcopal assemblies since February 2020.”
Original interview by Maria Lozano.