Jihadist terrorists murder Salesian missionary in Burkina Faso

“THE VEHICLE WAS RETURNING from a meeting in Togo when, just a few miles from the border, it was ambushed by terrorists who had just murdered four policemen and burned down a customs post. The armed men stopped the vehicle and forced the passengers to get out of the care. Then they took the priest to one side and shot him in the head.” This was the account of Father Jacob Lompo, treasurer for the Diocese of Fada N’Gourma, Burkina Faso. He gave an account of the murder of the Spanish missionary Father Antonio César Fernández to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Father Fernández

The attack took place Feb. 15, 2019, when this 72-year-old Spanish Salesian priest was returning to Burkina Faso along with two fellow Salesians, both of whom were unharmed.

“It is the first time that something like this has happened in this area. The people have never experienced anything of the kind before. But it is undoubtedly true that we have recently seen worrying activities by gangs of bandits and terrorists,” said a source who preferred to remain anonymous. The person added: “There are areas bordering on the Dioceses of Tenkodogo and Fada N’Gourma where it is no longer possible to celebrate Mass, because in some of the villages there have been abductions and hostage-takings.”

The priest’s murder is the latest sign of a rise of jihadist extremism in the country. Father Lompo reported that in the Diocese of Fada N’Gourma “a number of communities and churches have been forced to close down because jihadist groups have been going through the villages, threatening the inhabitants and demanding that they convert to Islam.”

He continued: “Many of the Christians are terrified and have fled. The parish priest has had to go looking for his catechists, who have been intimidated, and relocate them to other, safer places. A congregation of religious sisters has also had to move because of the danger.” This climate of fear is affecting above all the north, the east and the Sahel zone of the country; Father Lompo said that in that territory “600 state schools have had to close down because terrorist threats.”

Rafael D’Aqui, who oversees projects in the country for ACN, said: “The most alarming reports in recent months have come to us from the Diocese of Fada N’Gourma, above all from the frontier region with Niger. So this recent attack and the murder of Father Antonio Cesar in the south of the country, closer to the border with Ghana and Togo, is really worrying.”

He continued: “The problem of insecurity and radicalization that initially existed on the border with Mali has been extended towards the east, to the border with Niger, and in the last years also to the southeast of the country, where there have been reports of threats to the Christian community. But the murder of this Salesian priest happened some 80 miles from there. It seems as though the terrorists and guerrilla fighters are trying to encircle the frontiers of Burkina Faso. This is something new and it is really alarming.

“What is especially shocking is the fact that they should murder a missionary who has given his life to bring about development and who worked with the young people; a man who loved this country where the social work of the Catholic Church in education and healthcare has brought major benefits to everyone, and not just to the Christians. This murder is an attack on the country as a whole.”

—Maria Lozano