YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – An expert on anti-Christian persecution says that escalating jihadist violence in the African nation of Burkina Faso is producing the paradoxical effect of inducing lapsed Christians to return to religious practice.
Maria Lozano of the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) described the phenomenon as “a beautiful message of faith.”
In a conversation with Crux, Lozano said she has had conversations with clerics in Burkina Faso who tell her that the people know that “their lives are in danger” and are therefore more motivated to revert to Christianity as a preparation for eternal life should the worst happen.
“They face terrorism, so they believe the best way out is to become Christians,” Lozano told Crux.
“It is through faith that they have their consolation, and through faith, they know they could have eternal life,” she said.
“It tells me a lot about the faith that these people have, and it says a lot about the fact that this life on earth isn’t the last. There is life after death, but sometimes we forget that. It’s a beautiful message of faith,” Lozano told Crux.
The same paradox of a Church that has continued to grow despite the persistence of those trying to annihilate it also has been underlined by Father Pierre Rouamba, the Prior General of the Missionary Brothers of the Countryside.
“It is truly striking to note that Christians, who had to some extent abandoned religious practice before the crisis, are returning to the faith at a time when the terrorists are doing what they can to extinguish Christianity,” Rouamba said in an interview with ACN.
“While the terrorists prevent Christians from gathering in churches, families get together in their homes to rekindle the flame of faith through catechism classes and joint celebrations when there are no priests,” he said.
Rouamba said “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians,” quoting a famous line attributed to the early church father Tertullian, adding that the insight applies “in a particular and current way here in Burkina Faso,” noting that the people are “under fire from terrorists.”
“Burkina Faso is one of the countries where Christians are the most persecuted in the world. The situation has really dramatically deteriorated over the last ten years,” Lozano said. If you look at the map, besides the capital, the rest of the country is very insecure. Large portions of the country have been taken over by terrorist groups, so it’s difficult to move,” she told Crux.
Lozano said the situation has become so bad that Church officials may have to move around the country by helicopter.
“Anytime you go by road it is very dangerous,” she explained, and noted that she would place Burkina Faso “among the top ten worst persecutors of Christians in the world, and indeed persecutors of everybody who does not share the ideas of Islamic fundamentalists. I have been to Burkina Faso and even moderate Muslims face the same fate, but Christians remain their biggest target because they are seen as enemies because of their faith.”
According to the 2023 Religious Freedom Report published in June by ACN, Burkina Faso is one of the 13 African countries where Christians are most persecuted.
The report also lists Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, Somalia, Eritrea and Libya as some of the countries in Africa where it’s hard to live as a Christian.
More than 2,000 civilians and military personnel have reportedly died as a result of attacks carried out by groups associated with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Burkina Faso, primarily in the country’s northern and eastern areas, according to ACN. And more than two million people have been displaced.
As the West African nation struggles for survival amid terrorism, Aid to the Church in Need has stepped in. In 2022, ACN spent a $1.6 million on 62 projects, including construction, transportation, pastoral aid, emergency aid, Mass stipends and formation.
“We have many projects to help refugees, internally displaced persons. We help the families of displaced catechists, the families of displaced priests as well. We support children,” Lozano said.
“We try to be very close to the suffering Church in this country and to help and support their needs so that they can still keep their pastoral work. We help some communities that have to flee terrorism from one area to the other so that they can reorganize their lives,” she told Crux.
Rouamba says Christians in Burkina Faso want to be “a sign of Christian hope in the midst of desolation. We are accompanied by Christ, because He Himself went through the suffering that we are going through.”
“We do not know if we will survive beyond the next day,” Rouamba said. “This forces us to deepen our personal relationship with Him.”