Catholic bishops and other religious leaders have condemned the Feb. 25 destruction of two mosques in Ivory Coast, with a warning that the country's political struggle must not become a religious conflict.
Archbishop Ambrose Madtha, the Apostolic Nuncio of Ivory Coast, joined Bishop Salomon Lezoutie of Yopougon and other religious leaders in a visit to several mosques, seeking to show the Church's commitment to inter-religious peace in the embattled country.
Supporters of Laurent Gbagbo—who recently lost the presidential election—have reportedly burned down two mosques in Yopougon, a neighborhood in the city of Abidjan, as part of a campaign intended to terrorize supporters of his political rival Alassane Ouattara.
Gbagbo, a Catholic, has refused to give up the country's presidency despite losing to the Muslim candidate Ouattara in Ivory Coast's November 2010 election. The Catholic Church in Ivory Coast has insisted that the country's conflict is not religious in nature and should not lead to sectarian violence.
Leaders from the Forum of Religious Confessions of Ivory Coast likewise described the situation as “purely political,” and decried attempts to exploit religious tensions for a political purpose.
“For this reason,” they wrote, “we strongly condemn the attacks on various places of worship.”
“We want to remind people that places of worship are holy and sacred – and, like embassies, are accorded the status of extraterritoriality. The churches, mosques and temples, then, are inviolable places.”
Fighting between the rival camps has already forced 200,000 Ivorians to flee from their homes. Many refugees have fled to houses of worship, including Catholic parishes as well as Muslim mosques, to escape from the fighting.
In their statement after the mosque burnings, members of the Forum of Religious Confessions of Ivory Coast committed themselves to playing a humanitarian role and avoiding partisan commitments.
“Every day,” they wrote, “we help people of all ages travel, fleeing the horrors of a situation that we know, in search of a hypothetical safer refuge.”
Gbagbo's “Young Patriots,” based in the country's south, continue to resist international attempts to reach a settlement with Ouattara. Supporters of the defeated incumbent consider themselves to be fighting a defensive war against U.N. peacekeeping forces who support Ouattara as the election winner.