Christian Refugees in Burkina Faso Nostalgic about Christmas before Terrorist Attacks

Christmas in Ouagadougou. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

Displaced Christians in Burkina Faso are remembering with nostalgia how joyfully they celebrated Christmas before militants uprooted them from their homes, forcing them to seek refuge elsewhere.

Bartholomew is a Catholic and a father of seven who was forced to flee to Ouagadougou when Islamist insurgents attacked his village in Dablo in the North of Burkina Faso.

He narrated to Catholic charity and Pontifical foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Ireland, what Christmas was like before his family was displaced by terrorists. 

“In Burkina, traditionally, on Christmas Day the parents would try to organize a family celebration because Christmas is the feast of the children. After Mass, the parents would prepare dishes of rice and other things, and we would all visit one another dressed in our best clothing,” Bartholomew reminisces in the Monday, December 13 report.

He adds, “The children would make Christmas cribs which they took round all the houses, singing and praising the Lord. It was a very beautiful feast.” 


He told ACN that Christmas away from home is not the same, much as refugees try to survive by sharing the little they have with others.

“Something is missing,” the father of seven told the charity foundation, and added, “Things are not the same as they were before the insurgency.”

ACN reports that Islamist insurgency that has been growing in Burkina Faso since 2016 has displaced over 1 million people, adding, “The terrorists had specifically targeted Christians, forcing many to flee. The local church is helping to support these displaced families.” 

The Pontifical charity foundation shares that before the insurgency, Bartholomew made his living by farming and keeping livestock.

“He (Bartholomew) and his family had a simple and peaceful life. The majority of the local people were not Catholics, but the local Catholics had a small chapel to practice their faith. A local priest was assisted by eight catechists in ministering to the faithful,” the charity foundation reports. 

More in Africa

The father of seven and other Catholics in Dablo had a peaceful existence,” ACN notes, and adds, “That is until the Islamists arrived.”

“In 2019, there was a dramatic increase in terrorist attacks, with local Christians, the majority of whom are Catholics, being deliberately targeted. Many Christians were killed, and others were forced to flee their homes,” the charity foundation reports. 

Bartholomew narrated to the Catholic charity that terrorists surrounded the church where some people were hiding and forced their way in, fully armed, shooting at the people.

The terrorists are said to have killed five people and the Priest as well.

“I can still see their faces,” Bartholomew recalls in the ACN report, and explains, “Some of them had revolvers; others held steel bars in their hands… After that, they dragged everything together, the benches, liturgical items and books, in the centre of the church and set fire to it. They ordered all the women to cover their heads and stole our motorcycles. We ran out of the church. I can only thank the Lord that they didn’t kill me and my family as well.” 


“The priest who was killed by the terrorists was Father Simeon Yampa,” ACN report indicates, and adds in reference to Fr. Yampa, “He had been at the parish for about a year at the time of the attack. Instead of trying to flee, he had tried to mediate with the terrorists. He was killed on Good Shepherd Sunday.”

The day after the attack, Bartholomew and his family fled, the charity foundation says, and continues, “Bartholomew cycled on a bicycle while his wife, Antoinette Sawadogo, drove with the children in a car.”

Bartholomew and his family are said to have left behind all their possessions and livestock, which was their livelihood.

They travelled 195 km (120 miles) to Ouagadougou, where Bartholomew’s oldest son lived, ACN says, and adds, “Sadly, Bartholomew’s story is not unique. There are around 1.3 million internal refugees in Burkina Faso who have been displaced by the Islamist insurgency.”

ACN reports that the Church has stepped forward to help refugees in Burkina Faso, many of whom, like Bartholomew, had to leave behind all they owned to flee.

(Story continues below)

In its rally for support of refugees in Burkina Faso, the Pontifical foundation notes that it has not been easy for the local Church to organize the help that was needed on such short notice.  

“ACN is helping the local Church support these refugees. If you would like to help us in our work, please consider making a donation,” the charity foundation appeals in the December 13 report. 

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.