Father Germain Arama, visited ACN’s international headquarters in Königstein, Germany on Thursday, 21 April 2016. Born in Mopti, in central Mali, he studied at the seminary in Bamako, and is now the diocesan bursar of the diocese of Mopti, which serves a region of around 3 million people.
In a predominantly Muslim country, shaken by Tuareg rebellions and threatened by jihadist movements, how is the diocese of Mopti coping with the situation?
There has been a considerable growth in the number of Catholics, and in the number of those receiving the sacraments. For example, in 2015 there were 1,400 Baptisms, 674 Confirmations, almost as many First Holy Communions, and 140 marriages. To give you an order of comparison, in 2012 there were only between 600 and 700 baptisms!
What is the explanation for this growth?
Seeing the way the Christians live, and seeing what they do for others, people come to believe that they are following the right path. They say to themselves, “Well, there are not many of them, but what they are doing is truly praiseworthy.” As a result there are many conversions – in this direction: from the traditional religion of our ancestors to Catholicism. For example, one day a parish was helping the people to dig wells, here and there. When the people of the village realised that it was the Christians doing the work, the animist village chief converted to Catholicism, together with all his family, 10 people in all.
Is the number of priests growing in proportion to the number of the baptised?
Proportionately no, one cannot say that, but in my diocese we have almost 30 priests today, of whom five were newly ordained last year, and if all goes well there will be four new ones in the next two years. And there are eight students in the major seminary as well. But in some regions there is still work to be done. You can still find areas where there are only four priests for 250 parishes or chapel communities!
What are the specific needs of your diocese?
We are already counting very much on your prayers, but we also have plenty of material needs. In all we have seven parishes, and each one has its own language. We have just established a new parish which doesn’t yet have any parish office. We need training programmes. In some villages there are four or five magnificent mosques, while we, the Catholics, are still worshipping in some sort of a shed. We also need congregations of religious sisters to come help us in our pastoral work, and for that of course we have to have somewhere for them to live.
The Church hasn’t really re-established herself in the North since 2012 – neither in Gao, nor in Timbuktu – on account of the security situation. There are no resident priests there and no stable presence of the Church. Would you confirm that?
It’s true. It is a difficult situation. There are suicide bombers, and bombs left here and there. All pastoral work is on hold for the time being. The only priest who goes there from time to time to celebrate Mass, has to leave by plane with an armed guard. Or, if he goes by car, it takes him a whole day. It’s a distance of at least 600 or 700 km, and there is no possibility for him of residing there permanently. In the North, when you go to work there, you leave your family in the morning, but… are you going to be coming back there in the evening to see them again? No one can deal with the situation. Whether Christian or not, anybody can be caught up in the same violence . But we have to hope, I think, and call people to peace and reconciliation.
Are there still tensions between Christians and Muslims in the country?
The Christians and Muslims live side by side, day in, day out. It’s not from there that the problems come. At the start of the rebellion there were some who thought the underlying reasons were religious, but in fact it wasn’t the case. The northern region, known as Azawad, wanted independence and it took advantage of the crisis in Libya to get help in the fight. That was the problem, above all.
What are the principal challenges facing the Catholic Church today?
Reconciliation. Many Christians have lost family members. The Muslims have also lost, here an uncle, there a brother. There has been so much plotting! But now people simply have to agree to be reconciled. And if we, we Christians, want a lasting peace, we have to go through this process of reconciliation. It is unavoidable.
A full version (in French) of this interview is available on ACN France’s website: