Deceptive calm in Mali
According to a local Catholic, the apparent calm in Mali is deceptive, as Islamists continue to be a threat to the country and local Christians.
In the words of Brother Wilfried Langer, the situation in the north and east of Mali is unclear and deceptive: "The government and army are not permitting any return of pastoral workers and nuns because one of the Islamists' sources of money is hostage-taking. Millions of euros are being demanded as ransom."
At present there are no longer any Christians living in the north and east of Mali, and some 500 Catholics have left the region.
Although French troops control important towns such as Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu, pastoral workers and men and women in religious orders cannot return to their mission stations.
Brother Wilfried Langer of the Order of White Fathers and Germain Arama, priest and economist of the Diocese of Mopti, made their comments during a visit to international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Brother Wilfried went on to explain, "The leaders of the Islamists have pulled back across the borders to Algeria, Libya and Mauretania. They are waiting for the French to withdraw."
Originally from Germany, Brother Wilfried worked as a missionary in Mali from 1963 to 2012. In the past few decades he has supervised numerous parishes and built churches, mission houses and presbyteries.
At the beginning of 2012, fighting broke out in the north of Mali between Tuareg and regular forces, in a region which is close to twice the size of Germany. The Tuareg joined forces with Islamist groups, who soon seized power.
The internal conflicts came to a head when the military toppled the Malian government in the capital of Bamako.
Since this strategically important West African country was in danger of falling completely into the hands of Islamist forces, France finally intervened militarily in the conflict in January 2013 on the side of the Malian army.
In January of 2013, ACN guaranteed the Malian Diocese of Mopti in the south of the country $51,800 in emergency relief for 326 refugee families.
According to Abbé Germain Arama, the money was used to give initial medical care to the refugees and to buy medical supplies, food and blankets.
About 40,000 Catholics live on the territory of the diocese, which is substantially larger than France. In six large parishes, 22 priests are at present performing pastoral work.
The mostly Catholic Christians of Mali make up only 1% of the population. The majority (80-90%) of the 16 million inhabitants are Muslim, while the rest belong to traditional African religions.