Catholic Bishop Hopes Meeting with Somalia Authorities Will Yield to Religious Freedom

Credit: Agenzia Fides

The Apostolic Administrator of Somalia’s Catholic Diocese of Mogadishu has expressed optimism that a recent meeting between Catholic Church leaders and high-level political leaders in Somalia will open more opportunities for Christians in the country to worship more freely.

In a report to the Information service of Propaganda Fide, Agenzia Fides, Bishop Giorgio Bertin said that he had joined a delegation of Catholic Church leaders for a meeting with top government officials in Somalia to establish working relationships with the government of the Horn of Africa country.

Bishop Bertin who is also the Local Ordinary of Djibouti noted that the Apostolic Nuncio in Ethiopia who doubles as the Apostolic Delegate to Somalia, Archbishop Antoine Camilleri, was also part of the delegation that spent four days in Mogadishu.

The delegation was able to meet Adan Madobe, the new president of the chamber, with whom the Church leaders discussed “confessional relations”, Bishop Bertin told Agenzia Fides.

“At the moment, as is well known, there are no diplomatic relations, but after 30 years, for the first time we meet with representatives at the highest level,” Bishop Bertin has been quoted as saying in the August 13 Agenzia Fides report.


He added, “The relationship with the Catholic Church is fundamental and we hope that we will be granted the right to worship. It would be a big step forward. In fact, this right is not guaranteed because, given the general insecurity of recent years, we cannot rebuild the cathedral or hold public worship.”

The Italian-born member of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM) noted that the representative of the Holy Father in Ethiopia “was very happy with the results of the meetings”, and added, “It is the desire of the Nuncio and the authorities to deepen relations for mutual recognition.”

Bishop Bertin said that such recognition would not only be beneficial to the Church in the country that is 99 percent Muslim, but also to the locals who would be more accessible for support by the international community.

The 75-year-old Bishop who was appointed Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu in April 1990 however, underscored the need to approach the issue of religion in Somalia with caution.

“Given the fragility of the government, it could be a risk for the executive to grant openings towards the Church that could be judged excessive, at least at this stage,” the Bishop said.

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He added, “In the meantime, we will remain close to the Somali people. For this reason, we want to launch an aid campaign in collaboration with Caritas Somalia, Caritas Ireland and Caritas USA, to provide an immediate response to drought and famine.”

The OFM member said that the main objective of their meeting with government officials in Somalia was to address the “very serious” problem of the drought in the country, but also as an opportunity to restart ties with the Somali authorities.

Highlighting the success of the visit, Bishop Bertin said, “We are satisfied. We were unable to meet with the Minister of Religious Affairs, Muktar Robow… Also, on those days we met with the person responsible for the response to the drought and we talked with him about this dramatic aspect and how to work together to face it.”

Led by the Apostolic Nuncio, the delegation also presented various gifts, including the letter signed by the Pope in Abu Dhabi with the Sheikh of Al Azhar and the October 2020 Encyclical Letter on fraternity and social friendship, Fratelli Tutti, Bishop Bertin said.

He said that the visit was “an opportunity to establish a first contact”, adding, “In addition, like Caritas Somalia, on Saturday, August 6, we made a donation for a health center that will be managed by local staff.”


In their meeting, the delegation also addressed the challenge of Al-Shabaab, a militant group imposing Sharia laws on locals in Somalia and outside the Horn of Africa country.

“In the different meetings we had with the politicians, it seemed to us that there was a good will to dialogue with everyone, even with the historical opponents of al-Shabab,” Bishop Bertin said.

He added, in reference to Somali’s Minister of Religious Affairs, “Robow's choice is interesting, as he was a prominent member of al-Shabab, a group from which he distanced himself. He is a Minister who knows the mechanisms of the Islamic group from the inside and can help along the way to try to reach some kind of agreement. Clearly it will not be easy, but it is an attempt.”

The Apostolic Administrator of Somalia’s Catholic Diocese of Mogadishu also expressed confidence in the country’s political stability following heavily contested elections in May.

“At the moment the new Somali government is showing good will and it seems that the political process is beginning to work if we take into account that the lower house last Saturday, August 6, unanimously gave the green light to the executive presented by Hamza Abdi Barre, the new Prime Minister of Somalia,” Bishop Bertin said.

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He added, “This is certainly a great success, especially considering how many divisions there were in Somalia until a few months ago.”

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.