More than a dozen killed in attack on Catholics at Mass in Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso map Credit: Peter Hermes Furian via Shutterstock

At least 15 Catholics were killed in an attack during Mass on Sunday in the Burkina Faso village of Essakane in the country’s Oudalan province in the northeastern region, a jurisdiction of the Diocese of Dori.

In a statement, Father Jean-Pierre Sawadogo, the vicar general of the Dori Diocese, called the Feb. 25 incident a “terrorist attack” and appealed for prayers for the souls of those who he said “died in faith.” He also called for spiritual solidarity with those in need of healing and consolation.

“In this painful circumstance, we invite you to pray for those who died in faith, for the healing of the wounded, and for the consolation of grieving hearts,” Sawadogo said.

“May our efforts of penance and prayer during this blessed season of Lent obtain peace and security for our country, Burkina Faso,” he added.

According to Sawadogo, 12 worshippers were killed at the scene of the attack while three succumbed to their injuries while receiving treatment. Two others were being treated at a hospital.

The village of Essakane is in the “three borders” zone near the borders of Burkina Faso with Mali and Niger in the vast Sahel region. The Sahel region spans some 3,355 miles and stretches from the Atlantic Ocean eastward through northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, the great bend of the Niger River in Mali, Burkina Faso, southern Niger, northeastern Nigeria, south-central Chad, and into Sudan. 

The attack is the latest in a series of atrocities blamed on Islamist terrorist groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State reportedly active in the Sahel region, which have taken over long strips of land and contributed to the displacement of millions of people in the region.

Authorities in the Sahel region have been battling against the Islamist terrorist groups since Libya’s civil war in 2011, which was followed by an Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012. The jihadist insurgency reportedly spilled over into Burkina Faso and Niger in 2015.

While some attacks have targeted Christian churches, others have involved the kidnapping of members of the clergy, women and men religious, and seminarians.

In his Feb. 25 statement, Sawadogo called for peace and security in the West African nation and denounced individuals and groups that “continue to wreak death and desolation in our country” and appealed for prayers for their conversion.

Last year, Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré of the Dori Diocese expressed his solidarity with the people of God in Burkina Faso who no longer attend Mass for fear of jihadist attacks.

In an interview with the pontifical charity foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, Birfuoré made reference to the large number of Catholics skipping public worship, saying: “We understand them and do not ask them to go beyond their courage.”

He confirmed reports that 50% of the west African country is occupied by terrorists and many Catholic parishes have been left abandoned as their members stay away for fear of attacks.

In his episcopal see, three of the six parishes had to be abandoned for security reasons, Dabiré told ACN.

Dabiré, who chairs the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger (CEBN) — the joint bishops’ conference of Burkina Faso and Niger — said that in his native country, terror is directed against all residents of the country “who do not profess the same Islam as the jihadists, including Muslims.”

He went on to identify the jihadist group, dubbed “Support Group for Islam and Muslims,” as the most notorious in the west African country, adding that the group’s “actual goal is to oppress today’s society, which is a multireligious society of dialogue and coexistence.”

In March 2023, a delegation of 10 west African Catholic and Muslim religious leaders from Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Ghana met with U.S. legislators “to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in the Sahel region,” reported Catholic Relief Services, the humanitarian arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

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