Pope Francis calls for prayers, sends condolences to Muslims, Christians killed in Burkina Faso

Pope Francis appeared in a wheelchair at his general audience on Feb. 28, 2024. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 28, 2024 / 12:01 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis this week called for prayers for, and expressed his closeness to, the victims of twin terrorist attacks on Catholic and Muslim communities in the West African country of Burkina Faso.

“We pray for the victims of the recent attacks on places of worship in Burkina Faso,” a papal aide read on behalf of the Holy Father during his Wednesday general audience. 

The pope’s comments come after an official telegram signed by the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin was sent to Bishop Laurent Dabiré, president of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina Faso and of Niger on Monday. That message expressed pain on the pontiff’s behalf for the families of those murdered. 

The Monday telegram denounced the killings and reiterated the pope’s appeal for peace, noting that “hatred is not the solution to conflicts.” The pope further expressed his hope that sacred spaces — which have been frequently targeted in the country — be respected, a call which is underscored by a broader “fight against violence in order to promote the values of peace.” 

The world reacted in shock this week after 15 Catholics were killed in a Sunday prayer service led by a lay catechist in the village of Essakane, located in the country’s northern region which borders Mali and Niger.

Father Jean-Pierre Sawadogo, vicar general of the Diocese of Dori, deplored the killings as a terrorist attack, though he did not assign culpability to a specific organization. In the same statement, Sawadogo prayed for the conversion of those who “continue to wreak death and desolation in the country.”

The Diocese of Dori confirmed to Vatican News on Monday evening that 12 were killed in the initial attack, while three others died later in the hospital. 

Al Jazeera, meanwhile, reported that a mosque in Natiaboani was attacked on Sunday by armed rebels around 5 a.m., leaving dozens dead. 

“The terrorists entered the town early morning. They surrounded the mosque and shot at the faithful, who were gathered there for the first prayer of the day. Several of them were shot, including an important religious leader,” a local source AFP, as reported in the French newspaper Le Monde.   

The two attacks are the latest examples of a dramatic escalation of violence directed towards religious groups in the country, which has experienced a broad destabilization brought about by the 2014 Libyan Civil War. 

The violence in the aftermath of the Libyan war has been compounded by the emergence and proliferation of terrorist organizations in the country, as well as a political vacuum following two military coups in January and September 2022. 

In 2023, Bishop Dabiré noted that many Catholics there skip Mass out of fear of being caught in a firefight, and as a result, several parishes have been abandoned. The fear of violence has also affected missionary work and the distribution of much-needed aid in the country. 

Members of a Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger, held between Feb. 12-18, noted that the situation facing Catholics in the country has only deteriorated in the last year. 

“Overall, some thirty parishes and their associated structures (presbyteries, religious communities, health and education facilities, etc.) remain closed or inaccessible,” a Feb. 18, 2024 statement by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger observed.

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