Burkina Faso: ACN is helping the victims of terrorism


FOR ABOUT FIVE YEARS now the Sahel region of Burkina Faso has been shaken by a series of terrorist attacks. The two most recent incidents took place three months ago, causing many people to flee their homes and villages. To help mitigate the impact of the crisis, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has just approved a project that will be helping a group of internally displaced people to reintegrate elsewhere in the life of the Church and of society.

Aid will go to 18 lay catechists from the parish of Sebba, together with their families. These pastoral coordinators normally work as leaders within their local communities in places where priests cannot travel regularly, and consequently they find themselves on the front line as prime targets for the Islamist terrorists. Attacks forced the group out of Sebba to seek refuge in Dori, the departmental capital and seat of the local diocese.

Displaced family, Diocese of Dori

“This is a real challenge for the cash-strapped Diocese of Dori, which has been heavily affected by the terrorist attacks ever since 2015,” says local Bishop Laurent Dabiré. He is in charge of the measures put in place by the Christian community in Dori to welcome and support these catechists and their families and supply their basic needs. They were forced to flee in haste from the recent attacks, bringing almost nothing with them.

After providing them with this initial emergency support, it is now necessary to “ensure they have a decent minimum to live on for as long as they remain here in Dori,” said the bishop. And this will be necessary for some time to come, primarily because these catechists and their families speak only a local Gourmantché language and this linguistic barrier means they cannot be relocated to other dioceses in the country. Furthermore, their presence is necessary for local missionary outreach and to prepare for a future relaunch of evangelization as soon as conditions permit.

ACN has agreed to support these 18 catechists and their families, enabling them to socially integrate in their new environment. The $32,000 grant will allow them to receive psychological counselling and access primary medical aid, food and schooling. The commitment also includes a fund to be established for the families so that they can eventually support themselves through income generating projects in the longer term, such as livestock rearing and horticulture.

The Diocese of Dori lies in an overwhelmingly Muslim area with only some 1.8 percent of the population being Christian. The eastern part of the diocese suffered two recent terror attacks. The first happened  Feb. 10, 2000, some 30 miles from Dori. “A group of armed men entered the small town of Sebba, the center of one of my parishes, killing one person and abducting a Protestant pastor and six young pupils. They then executed them in cold blood the next day, releasing two girls only,” Bishop Dabiré reported. The second attack was came Feb. 16 some 60 miles from Dori. The terrorists invaded the village of Pansi, which lies within the parish of Saint Anthony in Sebba, “looting and ransacking and executing 24 people in cold blood.” One of the people they murdered was Philippe Yarga, the catechist and community leader of the village since 2017.

Born in 1975, Philippe Yarga left behind seven children, the youngest of whom was born 43 days after his death. He was an outstanding figure, “enthusiastic and full of love for his ministry” as well as being “a good father,” said the bishop. Having been warned that the security situation was deteriorating gravely in Pansi, he was about to slip away quietly to the home of one of his friends in a nearby village and find a way to escape from there to another town. However, he was just on the point of leaving his home when he was surprised by a group of unidentified armed men. According to eyewitnesses, the killers attacked the men in the village indiscriminately, without any religious or ethnic distinction.

Given the growing violence in Burkina Faso over the past five years, ACN has also agreed to fund seven other projects. These include the formation of 83 future priests in the Dioceses of Dori, Kaya, Fada N’Gourma and Tenkodogo; support for 10 women religious sisters working in the Diocese of Dori; and a nationwide pastoral outreach radio program targeting uprooted and displaced populations in the regions under threat. These projects total approx. $110,000.

—Christophe Lafontaine