, 20 September, 2020 / 7:50 PM
A Priest from Chad studying in France has, in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, explained the status of Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular in his native country where Christians are often under pressure to convert to Islam, the dominant religion.
“Our Church is not even 100 years old yet and, like the country as a whole, it is young and dynamic, with many baptisms,” Fr. Léandre Mbaydeyo says in the interview with Thomas Oswald of ACN.
However, Fr. Léandre, a member of the Clergy of Chad’s N’Djamena Archdiocese adds in the interview shared with ACI Africa Wednesday, September 16, “There is a shortage of priestly vocations. For many young men it is too many years of study for too little return.”
The fifth largest country in Africa, Chad has an estimated population of 15.48 million people.
According to the country’s 2009 census report, 58 percent of the population are Muslims, 18 percent Roman Catholic, 16 percent Protestant, and the remaining 8 percent adherents of indigenous religious beliefs such as animism.
“Chadian Christians are generally descendants of the animists, and there are good relations between both groups,” Fr. Léandre, an ACN-sponsored student studying in France says in the September 16 interview.
He appeals to those who view animism with suspicion “to resist the temptation to try and break completely with the past” saying, “Many of the values of the animists are compatible with Christianity.”
As one of the ten countries that fall in the conflict-ridden Sahel region, a fertile ground for the proliferation of extremist groups, the Chadian Priest says, the North-Central African nation has not been spared from Islamisation, especially during the reign of the late Muammar Gaddafi of neighboring Libya.
“Before his death in 2011, they (radical Islamists) were building mosques all over the country, including in the Christian towns of the South,” he says and adds, “They were encouraging young Muslim men to marry Christian women in order to convert them and have children who would in turn become Muslims themselves.”
According to the Paris-based Cleric, though this phenomenon stopped after the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, “in those places where Christians and Muslims live side by side, there is still pressure to convert to Islam.”
“On the other hand, it is very difficult for a Muslim to convert to Christianity, and those who do take this step are more often than not rejected by their families,” he says in the interview with ACN’s Thomas Oswald.
Commercial contracts in the landlocked country are often easier when one is a Muslim, he notes.
Fr. Léandre goes on to explain why Chad appears to be more stable compared to most of its neighbors in the Sahel region, including Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan and Eritrea.
“We are governed by a president (Idriss Deby Itno) who is a fighter. He has ruled the country for 30 years now and has a powerful army,” he says in the interview, which the leadership of the Catholic pastoral aid organization shared with ACI Africa.
He adds, “The Chadian army, with the support of France, has been very aggressive and effective against terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, and it doesn’t hesitate to attack its enemies even beyond its frontiers.”
Regarding the threat of “outright jihadist terrorism” waged by groups like Boko Haram, Fr. Léandre says, the Chadian government “is combating them effectively within its own territory, with the support of the French army.
“Consequently, it is a much less present threat than in the other surrounding countries,” he adds.
He also notes that the ethnically diverse nation grapples with “ancestral and immemorial conflict between the Muslim pastoralists of the North and the Christian and animist peasant farmers of the South.”
The Chadian people, the Priest says, have generally succeeded in resolving the majority of recurrent conflicts, but cautions that “when politics comes into the picture, everything becomes much more complicated and these disputes degenerate into bloody clashes.”
“I myself was born far from my parents’ home village, since they had to flee on account of the war and so I am a child of the war, and it may well be war that eventually kills me,” he says.
Cognizant of his past, Fr. Léandre observes, “Chadian people are very conscious of the latent potential for violence; it forms part of our education and our way of life.”
He explains, “When I arrived in Paris for my studies, I was invited to take a walk along the famous Champs Elysées but I declined, because it runs next to the presidential palace. In Chad you have to steer clear of the presidential palace because it is a very dangerous place, where the sentries will shoot at anything that moves.”
He recalls an incident of an Italian nun who accidentally drove around the perimeter wall of the presidential palace in N’Djamena and when she realized her mistake and reversed the car, “the sentries still opened fire, shattering her windscreen.”
“Fortunately, she had the presence of mind to duck, and so she survived the incident,” Fr. Léandre says.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa