“Christians have gradually been marginalized”: Apostolic Administrator in Somalia

Map for Somalia, a territory under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Diocese of Mogadishu. Credit: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

The minority Christian population in Somalia has been gradually marginalized, the Apostolic Administrator of the country’s only Catholic Diocese of Mogadishu has said.

The Horn of Africa nation has a predominant Muslim population that makes up 99.8 percent of the 16 million Somalians. Christians are estimated to be 1,000 with Catholics being 100, according to 2018 statistics.

In a Thursday, April 29 report obtained by ACI Africa, Bishop Giorgio Bertin says, "Somalis have never been anti-Christians. Indeed, in the past they viewed us in a benevolent way.”

Bishop Bertin who is also the Local Ordinary of Djibouti further says that “since the fall of Siad Barre, perhaps even a little earlier, with the arrival of an Islamism that seeks to rebuild society on the basis of Islamic law, Christians have gradually been marginalized.”

“Currently politicians, although they are not hostile to the Church, tend not to guarantee a space for Christians because they fear being accused of favoring 'the crusaders'. These are rhetorical formulas that, unfortunately, however, are becoming fashionable,” the member of the Order of Friars Minor (OFM) adds in the April 29 report.


The Religious Freedom in the World Report (RFR) 2021 released by the pastoral charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International ranked Somalia at position 23 among 62 countries where “the most intense” violations of religious freedom occur.

“While in principle the constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia guarantees freedom of religion, it is severely limited in practice because of the strong social pressure to adhere to Sunni Islam; this leaves religious minorities vulnerable to harassment and marginalization,” ACN officials said in the April 20 report.

They added in reference to Somalia, “Prospects for human rights, including freedom of religion, are substantially negative for the foreseeable future.”

Amid the ongoing Somali Civil War that started in 2009, the Church has been reaching out to the affected people through Caritas Somalia, “which works on a social level providing assistance to the population in difficulty, especially the weakest groups such as children and women,” the April 29 report indicates.

The report that has been published by Agenzia Fides, the information service of Propaganda Fide, further indicates that Caritas Somalia officials reached out to an estimated 3,500 people in Puntland, the Northeastern part of the country who were affected by Cyclone Gati in 2020.

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“It was not an easy intervention because it was carried out in an area where the presence of jihadists is strong,” the April 29 report indicates referencing the work of Caritas Somalia in Puntland.

In the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, which the international community considers part of Somalia, Caritas Somalia that is operating under the name Caritas Naxariis (Mercy) “is working on an educational project for 35 displaced children.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, officials of the development and humanitarian arm in the country have been reaching out to people in Mogadishu, Garowe, and Bosaso areas with educational programs to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“Operating in Somalia is not easy. The political situation is very complex,” Bishop Bertin says and explains, “We have before us a central power, which is trying to resurface and assert itself, which is facing federal states which, in turn, are trying to make their voice heard.”

The Italian-born Bishop explains, “In fact, this confrontation has immobilized the country. The Somali political situation is influenced by the interests of regional and international actors. The price of this situation is the instability paid by the civilian population.”


Bishop Bertin who has been at the helm of Mogadishu Diocese since 1990 following the 9 July 1989 assassination of Bishop  Pietro Salvatore Colombo, OFM says that Al-Shabaab militants are “present in the interior of South-central Somalia, but it also has its own cells in the main Somali cities.”

He notes that there are other terror groups inspired by the Islamic State, operating mainly in Puntland, Northeastern part of the country.

The terror groups, “in addition to imposing a comprehensive vision of Islam, sow hatred and terror in the territory,” the 74-year-old Bishop who has been the Local Ordinary of Djibouti since May 2001 says in the April 29 report.

The horn of Africa nation “needs a program to build a State capable of providing its citizens with security and basic services,” Bishop Bertin says, adding that institutions that “are weak, sometimes absent, and often quarrelsome” in the country justify such a program.