Marian Statue in Benin, Fulfillment of Slain Salesian Missionary’s Desire: Officials

Fr. César Fernández, a Spanish Salesian missionary killed in February 2019 by jihadists in Burkina Faso.

A statue of Mary Help of Christians, which arrived in Benin at the beginning of this month, is a fulfillment of the desire of Fr. Antonio César Fernandez, a Spanish member of the Religious Institute of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) who was killed in Burkina Faso two years ago, SDB officials have said in a report.

The Tuesday, February 16 report obtained by ACI Africa indicates that prior to his death, Fr. Fernandez had, in a visit to his home country, expressed the desire to have a statue of Mary Help of Christians like the one at the Salesian House, Cordoba in Spain in the pre-Novitiate community in Benin’s Diocese of Porto Novo.

“The Salesian community of Córdoba saw the possibility of sending this blessed statue and thus fulfilling his wish - a desire that came to fruition also thanks to the organization of the trip by the Salesian Mission Office of Madrid, Misiones Salesianas,” SDB officials say in the February 16 report.

The Statue of Mary Help of Christians arrived in the Salesian Community in Benin’s Diocese of Porto Novo on February 1, and was “welcomed with great joy and much-awaited for by Salesians, young people, and street children.”

To the members of the 161-year-old Religious Institute serving in Spain, the statue “represents a significant tribute to the memory” of Fr. Fernandez who had been a missionary in Africa for 37 years.


The 72-year-old Spanish-born missionary who founded the Salesian communities in Togo, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso was killed by three gunshots on 15 February 2019. The shots were reportedly fired by jihadists about 40 kilometers from the Southern border of Burkina Faso.

According to Catholic News World, Fr. Fernandez and his colleagues were returning to Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, from a meeting in the capital of Togo, Lomé, when they were caught up in a cross-fire of jihadists who were attacking a customs office in Southern Burkina Faso.

Following his death, the City Council of his hometown of Pozoblanco in Spain decreed two days of mourning. The Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez and other government officials sent messages of condolence to his family, friends and the Salesian family.

A one-minute video that Fr. Fernandez had recorded a few days to his death in which he termed poverty and inadequate Priests as the motivation for his Priestly and missionary vocation went viral following his death.

Made 25 years ago by Cordovan sculptor Marco Augusto Dueñas Cepas, the Statue of Mary Help of Christians was meant to replace an old statue of Mary Help of Christians that had been at the altar of the Shrine of Mary Help of Christians in Porto Novo, Spain since 1908. 

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However, after some years, the leadership of the SDB community decided to retain the old statue, and the new one was placed in the community’s private chapel. It remained there until Fr. Fernandez wished to have a similar one in Benin.

“For us it is a reason for joy to make this donation to the Salesian community of Porto Novo, more than 25 years after its blessing,” the Director of the Salesian House in Cordoba, Spain, Fr. José Antonio Perdigones, has been quoted as saying in the February 16 report.

He implores, “May the image of Our Lady, which was blessed in the same place where our brother Antonio César Fernandez received the missionary crucifix, now be a sign of communion in these lands. She unites us and makes us feel more brothers.”

As they marked the second anniversary of Fr. Fernandez’s death on February 15, Salesian Missionaries serving in Africa prayed for the eternal repose of his soul and for the “conversion of these people who continue to make our world more fragile.”

The founder of SDB, St. John Bosco, popularized the devotion to Mary Help of Christians and chose her as the patroness of the Salesian family and its works across the globe.