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Attack on Catholic Priest by Military “a violation of Chad’s constitution”: Archbishop

Archbishop Djitangar Goetbé Edmond of Chad’s Archdiocese of N’Djamena/ Credit: Courtesy Photo

The recent attack on a Catholic Priest ministering in Chad’s N’Djamena Archdiocese by military officers is a violation of the country’s constitution, the Local Ordinary of the Chadian Metropolitan See has said in a statement.

On November 3, some military officers reportedly stormed St. Isidore Bakanja Parish in Walia-Gorée, assaulted the Parish Priest, Fr. Simon-Pierre Madou, and confiscated his mobile phone.

In his statement issued November 6, Archbishop Djitangar Goetbé Edmond expressed his condemnation of what he called “certain attitudes and behaviors of disrespect that some compatriots adopt towards other people' religion.”

“The lack of respect for places of worship and with all the signs of its sacred character as is the case at the Parish of Walia-Gorée is a flagrant violation of the first article of the Constitution which declares Chad a secular state,” Archbishop Djitangar says.

By deliberately violating this sacred place, the Catholic Church leader says the soldiers “put themselves above the law and therefore in a position of outlaws.”

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“It is intolerable to insult and lay hands on a religious person in full exercise of his responsibility, even if he is a foreigner, which is not the case here,” the Archbishop says in his message.

He notes that the act committed by the soldiers “is a form of intolerance that should have no place in a plural society like ours.”

“Those who behave in this way are putting themselves at war with God for God does not despise any prayer made with a good heart and an upright conscience, whatever the religious denomination of the believer,” Archbishop Djitangar says.

In his statement, the Chadian Archbishop goes on to recount the circumstances surrounding the attack saying, “On the morning of November 3, 2021, three Toyota vehicles with military personnel on board forced their way into the courtyard of the St Isidore Bakanja Parish in Walia-Gorée.”

He continues, “The occupants of the vehicles settled down in the Parish without any respect for the people and the place where they were. This in the absence of the Parish Priest.”

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“When the Parish Priest arrived, he introduced himself to the soldiers and asked them to state the reason for their mission. The three soldiers insulted the Priest and urinated inside the Parish. They then molested the Priest who was trying to film the scene and seized his mobile phone,” the Archbishop recounts.

“The phone was only returned after the intervention of the Vicar General, Fr. Samuel Mbairabé Tibingar, and the episcopal vicar in charge of pastoral work, Fr. Romain Guelbé,” the Archbishop further recounts, and adds, “The three priests called on the faithful to remain calm and promised to report faithfully to the Archbishop what they had seen and heard.”

After listening to the report of the two Vicars, Archbishop Djitangar says he “personally went to St. Isidore Bakanja Parish the next day, November 4, to speak with the Parish Priest and gather additional information.” 

In his November 8 statement, the Chadian Archbishop recalls similar incidents that seem to target the Catholic Church and her members.

“On February 6, 2018, during the crackdown on the protests, tear gas was deliberately fired into the courtyard of St. Mathias Mulumba Parish in Pari Congo, injuring worshippers as they left morning Mass. I wrote a letter of protest to the Minister of Security who did not bother to reply,” Archbishop Djitangar recalls.

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He further recalls that in “March 2020, soldiers stationed at the entrance of the Sacred Heart Parish Chagwa prevented the Priest who was going to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist to gain access to the Church.”

In April 2020, Archbishop Djitangar recalls that “soldiers stormed the courtyard of the Sacred Heart Parish of Chagwa. When the Parish Priest called me, I asked him to go and ask the military chief why they were there and if they had a mission order ... especially since they were returning from the repression of street demonstrations. They claimed to have come to rest a little before leaving... They stayed from 11am to 1pm.”

Against this backdrop, the 69-year-old Archbishop who has been at the helm of N’Djamena Archdiocese since October 2016 invites the people of God in Chad to “pray for the conversion of those who have no respect for places of worship.”

He further encourages the faithful “to ensure respect for the sanctity of our places of worship through a proper and dignified behavior.”

The Local Ordinary of N’Djamena also urges the people of God to “remain vigilant and denounce any suspicious conduct and activities that could harm the sacred character of our places of worship.”

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He urges all Priests to “pray and ask the Lord's forgiveness for all those who offend the Church.” 

The Archbishop also calls on his collaborators to “reinforce the security of Tabernacles in our chapels and churches.” 

Catholic Priests, he further says, “should organize or strengthen the capacity of parish security services to deter any violation of sacred space by ill-intentioned persons.” 

“Priests should determine and enforce the opening and closing hours of the chapels or churches for the visits of the faithful to the Blessed Sacrament,” Archbishop Djitangar directs.

Catholic Priests should also “report to the competent authorities (diocesan or administrative) any questionable behavior, any lack of respect for the status and nature of places of worship,” the Chadian Archbishop further directs. 

Archbishop Djitangar urges relevant Chadian authorities “to be aware of the highly sensitive nature of all that touches the religious domain and to respect those who are responsible for it.”

He further calls upon Chadian authorities “to take the necessary measures to secure our places of worship and to punish all those who commit acts that jeopardize our coexistence.”