The international charity Aid to the Church in Need has stepped up the provision of aid to the Sahel region following a deterioration of the security situation there over many years. Despite persecution, the number of Christians in the region is increasing.
The Sahel region of Africa, which spans several countries including Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mali, currently is one of the world’s major flashpoints. Islamist terror and hunger go hand in hand with each other here, while the civil authorities appear to have largely lost control of large parts of the region. In the wake of a ten-year military presence, the western forces are steadily withdrawing due to their inability to resolve the problem. They are leaving behind a growing humanitarian disaster characterised by ruined structures, hunger and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) looking for a new home.
Given the destruction and enforced closure of ecclesiastical facilities, such as hospitals and schools, the Church in the region has expressed its sorrow over the clock being turned back 25 years. As in many places, however, it is nonetheless the only local institution that is coming to the aid of all these people who have suddenly become destitute.
At the end of 2023, ACN Executive President, Regina Lynch, underscored the charity’s commitment to focusing more acutely on the region. Against this backdrop, in recent weeks, ACN has stepped up its provision of aid to the Sahel region and to Burkina Faso in particular. A large portion of this assistance, consisting of emergency food supplies and medicines, is benefiting the Christians who have fled terrorism. A further purpose of the aid, delivered through the construction of classrooms and the funding of school places, is to allow the children of internally displaced families to continue their education.
Emergency aid for victims
More than 340 Christians from Débé, for example, who at the end of last year were given an ultimatum by terrorists to leave their village, are receiving emergency assistance, as are almost 60 families who have taken in the victims despite their own poverty. Bishop Prosper Ky of the Diocese of Dédougou describes the situation to ACN: “It is truly distressing to see internally displaced people with all their worldly goods roaming the streets and looking for somewhere to stay. In my diocese there are hundreds of thousands of them. The majority are women and children.”
Another of those driven out by the jihadists, who shares the same fate as 900 Christians and baptismal candidates, is Father Etienne Sawadogo, parish priest of Rollo, a commune in the north of Burkina Faso. He underlines the importance of emergency aid in the form of food and medicines: “How are people to live a Christian life when they are constantly hungry? How are people to pursue their Christian calling if they are unwell and not receiving any aid?”
Living faith despite persecution
Notwithstanding the precarious situation in the country, which has been worsening year by year since 2015 because of fundamentalist violence, the Church in Burkina Faso is alive and has many vocations. In the Diocese of Koupela, for instance, which is situated in a region where fighting between security forces and terrorists is an everyday occurrence, the seminary is currently training 67 young candidates. Since many families there are no longer able to contribute financially to their sons’ training, ACN is supporting the seminarians in the diocese by paying their study and travel costs as well as medical expenses.
As a pastoral charity, ACN is also seeking in particular to reinforce the faith and the hope of those who have been displaced. Father Etienne Sawadogo explains: “We want to help the Christians from Rollo, who have lost everything, to interpret the events and signs of the times in the light of the Scriptures.” Pastoral work is being supported by a variety of measures, including the provision of bibles, to give the people a deeper understanding of their own faith and to promote a life of prayer.
This applies not only in Rollo, but also in the Diocese of Nouna in the northwest of Burkina Faso, where alongside bibles the Catechism of the Catholic Church is being distributed to the parishes to facilitate catechesis. Despite persecution, there are many Muslim converts to Christianity in Burkina Faso. The diocese wishes to help these believers in particular to become more familiar with their faith and to grow within it: “It is not enough for the converts to receive baptism and Holy Communion,” says diocesan youth minister Romuald Fuambu Nsanyi, “it is our responsibility to help them grow and become good Christians.”
In the Diocese of Kaya, likewise situated in the north of the country, ACN is funding the construction of a diocesan pastoral centre to enhance the spiritual welfare both of the soldiers who are protecting the population and of young people and schoolchildren.
In 2023, ACN supported 56 projects in Burkina Faso with more than one million euro in funds. In addition to this, in Chad, Mali and Niger, ACN provided total help with almost a million euro for emergency aid, Mass stipends, the training of seminarians, and cars and motorbikes for priests and religious sisters.