YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Burkina Faso has been consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in a bid to stem the tide of jihadist attacks in the country and the rest of the Sahel region of Africa.

The latest deadly attack took place on Feb. 1 when at least 20 people were killed in the northern village of Bani.

Just a day after that attack, the Yagma Sanctuary in the Archdiocese of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, was the scene of a traditional Marian pilgrimage.

Catholic faithful from Burkina Faso and Niger, led by eight bishops of the two countries joint bishop’s conference, sought the intervention of The Blessed Virgin Mary to stop the incessant violence in the region.

“The bishops of the conference decided to consecrate Burkina Faso to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Lady of Yamga,” said Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré of Dori, the head of the bishops’ conference.

“It is an act of trust, faith and hope that with Mary interceding for us, God will give us victory over evil and the strength to work towards a more fraternal world, a world in which everyone participates at his/her level so that things move forward,” he said.

The pilgrimage brought together thousands of Christians from the 17 dioceses of Burkina Faso and Niger.

The pilgrimage came within the context of a yearlong “chain of prayers” launched by the Catholic Church in Burkina Faso in December 2019.

“The chain of prayers organized by all the churches is a comfort for the people of Burkina Faso,” said Prime Minister Christophe Joseph Marie Dabiré of Burkina Faso, who attended the pilgrimage.

“We are very happy to see that the church family of Burkina Faso is fundamentally concerned with the question of peace and security,” the prime minister said.

RELATED: Niger, Burkina Faso bishops warn of ‘inter-communal conflicts’ if jihadist attacks continue

The arid Sahel region – located at the borderland between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa – has been plagued by attacks from various Islamic groups, including some aligned with Al Qaeda and Islamic State. Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have been particularly affected.

Burkina Faso is 60 percent Muslim, with Christians making up about a quarter of the population. Mali is around 90 percent Muslim, with Christians making up about 5 percent of the population. Niger is over 99 percent Muslim and just 0.3 percent Christian.

According to ECOWAS, a regional body for West Africa, more than 2,200 terrorist attacks have taken place across the Sahel in the last four years, resulting in the deaths of 11,500 people. Thousands more have been wounded and millions of others displaced.

Volunteer plan

In the face of repeated attacks, the government of Burkina Faso has developed a plan that will allow civilians aged 18 and above to be recruited as local volunteers to fight terrorist groups. According to the law adopted by the country’s parliament on Feb. 4, volunteers will be recruited in their regions in agreement with local populations. They will undergo 14 days of military training, and will then be given small arms and communications equipment.

According to the Defense Minister, Cherif Sy, the volunteers will carry out basic surveillance and provide information and protection for their communities in the event of an attack, while awaiting military deployment.

However, Dabiré said prayer and virtue are also important to the country.

“Burkina Faso needs men and women with a pure heart, in this period of terrorist violence that plunges the country into mourning,” the bishop said.

“This is why it is necessary to consecrate Burkina Faso to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so that all the violence may come to an end,” he continued.

Dabiré said the fight against insecurity also involves the fight against recourse to “ethnic and religious identities.”

Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo, the Archbishop of Ouagadougou, also issued an appeal at the Marian shrine.

“Let those who take up arms and explosives lay them down and stop killing their brothers,” the cardinal said.

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