FATHER SIMEON YAMPA, parish priest at Dablo, in central northern Burkina Faso, was killed May 12, 2019 by jihadists who attacked a chapel during Mass; five laypeople were murdered as well. The next day, in Zimtenga, in the same region of the country, suspected Islamist radicals halted a Church procession and killed four laypeople; the attackers also destroyed a Marian statue.
According to local sources who spoke to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the attackers in Dablo burst into the chapel, shooting, just as the congregation was singing the Gloria. Three bullets struck the Tabernacle. Father Yampo was shot and killed as he was trying to bring altar servers to safety.
“There was a general panic, and people were terrified. The killers forced the faithful to remove the crucifixes and religious items they were wearing and put them down in front of the altar. They threatened the entire congregation before leaving, warning them that they would return and that if the women were not all covered in veils, they would kill them all,” said Rafael D’Aqui, who oversees projects in Burkina Faso for ACN. The rectory in Dablo, right next to the chapel, was built just six years ago with help from ACN.
For many years, Burkina Faso—where Muslims form a majority—has been regarded as an example of interreligious peace and harmony. Christians (23.9 percent of the population) and animists (21.3 percent) have not suffered any discrimination.
Burkina Faso has for some years been the target of jihadist attacks, fueled by the influx of militants from its northern neighbors Mali and Niger. However, until recently, assaults were not targeting a specific religion. Christians have now clearly become particular targets for jihadists.
On April 28, 2019 Pierre Ouedraogo, Protestant pastor was murdered together with two of his children and three other worshippers, in an attack on a church in Silgadji. On Feb. 15, 2019, Spanish Salesian missionary Father César Fernández was shot dead. Still missing is Father Joel Yougbare, a Catholic priest abducted March 17, 2019.
ACN has reported on a number of threats against Catholic communities in various parts of the country, which have forced Sunday Masses to be cancelled and even prompted communities of sisters to vacate their convents. “The jihadist groups are going through the villages threatening local inhabitants and demanding they convert to Islam, shutting down Christian communities and places of worship, and also schools and health centers,” said D’Aqui.
Following the May 13 terror attack, Bishop Justin Kientega of Ouahigouya announced security measures. He counseled he counseled priests and religious to avoid wearing overtly religious clothing. He also recommended not using obviously marked vehicles, traveling only when there is plenty of traffic, and never at night, as well as not always driving along the same route. He also urged that meetings not be announced far in advance.
Bishop Kientenga called on priests to step up their vigilance around their churches and chapels, with the help of volunteers who can respond rapidly and warn the faithful in the event of danger. Priests were also told to limit the length of their liturgies.
“Father Simeon died on Good Shepherd Sunday, which is a moving sign. It is important to emphasize that his funeral on May 13 was attended not only by two government ministers and by Church representatives, but also by many animists and Muslims who are completely opposed to these barbaric acts,” D’Aqui concluded.