YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A Catholic cardinal has called for Christians to use prayer as their weapon, after a catechist in the central African nation of Burkina Faso was kidnapped on Sunday along with his wife.
Catholic Radio Omega reported that Mathieu and Alizeta Sawadogo were taken at 4 a.m. in the morning. Mathieu serves as a catechist for the Notre Dame Des Apôtres parish in Baasneere, located in the Diocese of Dori.
The kidnapping was by suspected Islamists in the provincial capital, Arbinda, about 20 miles away from his parish.
The kidnapping comes against the backdrop of rising insecurity to the north of the country, near the border with Mali, where armed groups have been terrorizing the area.
In mid-April, a government school teacher was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in Burkina Faso’s Soum region. The Islamic State in the Grand Sahara later claimed responsibility.
The mayor of Koutougou was also kidnapped, and on April 24 the chief of the village of Niafo, Hamidou Koudaba, and two other people were assassinated by gunmen, as they returned from the mosque.
The capital Ouagadougou, located in the center of the country, has not been spared. In two years, the city has suffered three terrorist attacks.
The terrorist attacks have forced the Catholic Church to recall some of their catechists in the north of the country in an effort to keep them safe.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Swiss Catholic news site, Cath.ch, the Archbishop of Ouagadougou, Cardinal Philippe Ouedraogo, said he doesn’t understand why terrorist attacks are on the rise in the country.
“Burkina Faso has become one of the targets of extremist jihadists. We are asking who is behind this. We have suffered already two attacks in Ouagadougou and at the border with Mali, the attacks are more frequent,” he said.
The cardinal said these attacks have not put into question interreligious dialogue in the country, noting that faith leaders “are quite open and united.”
He laid the blame for the attacks on external forces, “even if they succeed in recruiting some Burkinabés, perhaps because of poverty and with some indoctrination and brainwashing.”
“But when they kill, Muslims are killed too, which demonstrates the complexity of the problem. I can’t explain the reasons for these terrorist acts,” Ouedraogo said.
Prayer: The Christian’s Kalachnikov against terrorism
In the wake of the series of attacks, the cardinal said the Christian’s weapon against such attacks remains prayer.
“For us Christians, faced with this inhuman violence, our Kalashnikov to fight back, as a matter of priority, is prayer to God,” he said.
Inviting the people of Burkina Faso to turn to God in prayer, Ouedraogo turned to the Gospel of John for inspiration: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
He called on Christians to recite the prayer for peace in Burkina Faso daily, after Mass, and after saying the Our Father, three Hail Marys, and the Glory Be to the Father. He also called on Christians to fast every Friday.
Last Easter, the bishops raised concerns over the worsening security situation in the country.
“Insecurity remains a major preoccupation. It reveals the fragility of our peaceful co-existence and at the same time represents a huge challenge for social cohesion and the harmonious development of our country,” the bishops said in a statement.
They complained that the measures taken by the government were “insufficient to guarantee peace and security.”
The President of the Higher Council for Reconciliation and National Unity, Léandre Bassolé, welcomed the cardinal’s latest statements, and noted that “the attacks have nothing to do with Islam, Catholicism or Protestantism,” and asked the nation to respond to the violence with prayers.
Burkina Faso is 60 percent Muslim, 19 percent Catholic, and around 5 percent Protestant; the rest of the population follows indigenous and other beliefs.
Relations between faiths have traditionally been good, although in recent years Wahhabi strains of Islam have been promoted by the Arab states, raising fears of fundamentalism.
The country’s president, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, has promised to undertake “new security measures” to deal with the assailants.
“Instructions have been given to the different teams…measures will be taken in the coming weeks to ensure the security of state representatives, because it’s imperative,” the president said shortly after a meeting of the members of the Higher Council for Defense and National Security.