YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Speaking to a country reeling from terrorism and internal displacement, Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, is calling for bringing down walls of hatred and building bridges of love.

Addressing around 20,000 Christians during the 27th archdiocesan pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Yagma on Aug. 15, Ouédraogo said religions “never incite war or solicit feelings of hatred, hostility, extremism, or invite violence or bloodshed.”

He said such “misfortunes” were the results of “the deviation of religious teachings, of the political use of religions and also of the interpretations of groups who have abused – at certain phases of history – the influence of religious feeling on the hearts of men to lead them to accomplish what has nothing to do with the truth of religion, for worldly and blind political and economic ends.”

Burkina Faso is located in Africa’s Sahel region, which separates North Africa from Sub-Saharan Africa. The area has been plagued by instability made worse by several concurrent Islamist insurgencies.

Burkina Faso has one of the largest Christian populations in the Sahel, making up nearly a quarter of the population.

On Aug. 4, the country’s military killed at least 34 militants during a counter-terrorism operation in the province of Bam to the north of the country, losing four men in the process.

In June, assailants massacred at least 160 people, including 20 children, in the village of Solhan. It was the deadliest single attack since jihadists started attacking the country in 2016.

Human Rights Watch reports that “attacks by armed groups caused over 237,000 people to flee their homes in 2021, bringing the total number of internally displaced people since 2016 to over 1.4 million, or 6 percent of the population. The government struggled to care for the growing number of displaced.”

But the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) has grown to nearly 2 million since then, a testament to the worsening security situation in the country.

The 77-year-old Ouédraogo called on the people of Burkina Faso to “break down the walls of hatred, hostility, misunderstanding, extremism, violence… and to build bridges of understanding, mutual respect, tolerance, brotherhood and love.”

The cardinal described peace as both a gift from God and the fruit of human effort, and called for perseverance in prayer as a means of obtaining lasting peace.

“Every day, at every Eucharist, let us take up the prayer for peace. And to give wings to our prayer, we must extend it with gestures of solidarity and sharing.”

Care for internally displaced people

Ouédraogo said the needs of the country’s IDPs are mounting by the day, and the Christian community needs to come to their aid.

“All that we are and all that we have are gifts from God and we must share with our brothers and sisters in need,” the prelate said.

“They live in poverty and in precarious situations. I propose a second collection to show our compassion and solidarity with our IDP brothers and sisters. Each parish, movement, association or spiritual or apostolic group is invited to intensify prayer for reconciliation, justice and peace, and to take initiatives of solidarity!” Ouédraogo said.

The family as bedrock of society

Even as insecurity continues to threaten the West African country, the cardinal said he believes the society will remain strong if family bonds are strengthened.

“The family is the future of the church and of humanity. We must therefore take care of it, and defend it,” he said.

“Do not allow the family to be polluted by the poisons of selfishness, individualism, the culture of indifference, death (abortion, euthanasia…). Instead, cultivate hospitality and the spirit of service and forgiveness,” he continued.

Citing Pope Francis, Ouédraogo said: “All you spouses, in forming your family, with the grace of Christ, have made the courageous choice not to use your freedom for yourselves, but to love the people whom God has placed beside you. Instead of living as ‘islands’, you have put yourselves ‘at the service of one another’, and this is how freedom is lived in the family … The family is the place of encounter, of sharing, of leaving oneself to welcome the other and to be close to him. It is the first place where we learn to love.”

He called on Christians to commit themselves to “reconciliation, justice and social cohesion, the guarantees of true and lasting peace.”

“Let us pray unceasingly for peace, reconciliation, and justice, for the conversion of the forces of evil; for the Internally Displaced Persons; and not forgetting our brothers and sisters who have been kidnapped and held hostage. We plead for their release,” he said.