As the country continues to sink little by little into the turmoil of terrorist violence, the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (SIC), a native congregation, are staying firmly put, with faith and courage, alongside their people in Burkina Faso. The interview with Sister Pauline, the General Superior of the congregation, and with Sister Marie-Bernadette, the former General Superior was conducted by Amélie de La Hougue for Aid to the Church in Need. Sister Pauline has been a nun for 25 years and Sister Marie Bernadette for 35 years.
Could you tell us a little about your congregation?
Our community of the Immaculate Conception was born in Burkina Faso in 1924 and is now active not only in Burkina but also in Togo, Niger, Benin, Ivory Coast, Mali, Algeria, Italy and France. Altogether there are 463 sisters in the congregation, with around 30 of them outside Burkina Faso. We also have 24 novices, and 24 postulants. Within Burkina Faso we are present in 13 out of the 16 dioceses of the country….
Today Burkina Faso is a country increasingly plagued by terrorist violence. Have you personally witnessed this?
Yes, we are currently living in a climate of permanent insecurity. Above all our sisters in the communities in the north of the country are witnessing daily clashes. In Bam, the terrorists were just 2 miles away from the community. We take in refugees every day, especially wives whose husbands have been murdered – because the terrorists mainly kill the men – but also children and old people… In the North the sisters care for somewhere between 30 and 60 refugees each day. And even here in Ouagadougou, the capital city, we have taken in over 600 people. These people need bread, water, a little soap, but also especially a sympathetic hearing, a gesture of gentleness, of being loved, even if only for a day, after what they have been through.
Are the terrorists targeting a particular section of the population?
Everyone is in their sights – Catholics are killed, animists are killed, Muslims are killed, Protestants are killed!
And you take in and help everyone?
Yes of course, we welcome all refugees whether Christians, Muslims, animists…
Are you afraid?
Afraid, no, because we trust in God’s providence. But we know that anything could happen to us any day and that we have to be prepared for every possible situation. We are concerned for everyone, we want to be able to attend to the needs of every individual, and above all as head of the community we carry all these cares and concerns. Here in Burkina Faso everybody is suffering from this climate of insecurity, not just our sisters in the north of the country, but also those in Mali….
What do you say to your own sisters during these difficult times?
We tell them to remain firm in their faith and in Love. We encourage them in their mission outreach wherever they happen to be. And we pray a great deal, and have been doing so for many years already, every day, for peace but also for the conversion of the terrorists. We are hopeful that the Lord will help us, for we are there for Him. We are living this martyrdom in faith.
Have you thought of closing some of your communities, like the one in Dori for example?
We don’t want to close any of our communities, because the people are already afraid and if they see the religious sisters leaving, then they will really feel abandoned. We want to stay alongside the people, to help them and console them… Our sisters in Mali were forced to leave for reasons of security, but now they tell me they are willing to return there. They feel they are ready to suffer along with the people, side by side with them.
Are the Christians continuing to hope, despite the threats hanging over them?
Yes, we have noticed a real spiritual growth among the people. Faced with these difficulties, the Christians are not deserting the churches; instead, on the contrary, they are praying still more! In the archdiocese of Ouagadougou we have organised a prayer chain in the 35 parishes, so that every week one parish will be praying specially for peace.
What message would you like to convey to Christians in Europe?
From the Christians of Europe we ask their prayers, their solidarity and their encouragement. We are surprised by what is happening to us, but at the same time we are sharing in the sufferings experienced by so many other Christians in other countries. And we also ask them to remain firm in their faith. We also want to express our heartfelt thanks to all those who are helping us and encouraging us to remain hopeful, so that we can continue to help all those who are suffering around us. And so in this way we want to share in one great communion of prayer.
How do you see the future?
We are trusting in Divine Providence. We know that the Lord loves us and that he will help us to come through these sufferings. We retain our spirit of Hope and refuse to fall into despair.
ACN has helped the SIC sisters since many years in Mali and Burkina Faso. The foundation had common projects for vehicles, renovation of the building of their formation houses, music apostolate, solar energy and formation of sisters. They received more than 120.000 EUR in the last 10 years of support. ACN is ready to further help the congregation for the formation of sisters, accompaniment of vocations (novices) and to support the presence of the sisters in the most difficult places.