Priests advised not to wear clerical dress while travelling
Following the most recent killing of four members of the Catholic faithful on Monday 13 May in the parish of Notre-Dame du Lac in Singa, in the province of Bam, security measures have been announced in a communiqué by Bishop Justin Kientega of the diocese of Ouahigouya in the northeast of Burkina Faso.
Speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International), the Bishop explained what had happened: “As they were setting out in procession to honour the Blessed Virgin, they were attacked, and four people were abducted. People thought they were going to be held captive, but instead they executed them without mercy”, he revealed.
The Bishop called on Christians to renew their prayers for peace in Burkina Faso, but at the same time he outlined precautionary measures and called for greater vigilance for the safety of the priests, religious and all the Catholic faithful of the diocese, which lies on the border with Mali in the north of the country.
In his statement he counselled his priests and religious to avoid wearing overtly religious clothing such as the soutane or religious habits that would distinguish them as such. And he recommended intensifying security measures, especially when travelling, such as not using obviously marked vehicles, travelling only at times when there is plenty of traffic, and never at night, and avoiding travelling always along the same route. He also advised them not to publicise their meetings too far in advance.
All these measures, which reflect the tense situation in the country following the escalation of violence against Christians, are bound to seriously affect the pastoral work of the Church, given that the Catholic communities are generally widely dispersed, above all in the north, where the majority of the population are either Muslims or animists.
As has already happened in other African countries such as Cameroon and Nigeria, and in Asia, notably in Pakistan and Sri Lanka – all of which have also been affected by the attacks of Islamic fundamentalist groups – Bishop Kientenga has called on his priests to step up their vigilance around their churches and chapels, with the help of volunteer vigilantes who can respond rapidly and warn the faithful in the event of danger. He also advised them to limit the length of their religious celebrations.
Finally, the Bishop underlined his concern for providing adequate protection for his catechists, who very often live and work in isolated areas and are therefore exposed to even greater risk.
Bishop Kientenga concluded his message with a prayer for peace: “May the Lord, the Prince of Peace and Victor over the powers of evil, grant peace to our country. May He Himself be our Strength and support, our Hope during these times of trial. May He grant eternal rest to our martyrs, and may the blood which they have shed be a source of peace and spiritual fruitfulness.”