Islamists in Burkina Faso Invading Churches, Forcing Catholics to Sit Separately

Shelter for displaced families in the diocese of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Credit: ACN

Very little Christianity is allowed in several villages in Burkina Faso, and where Catholics can attend Holy Mass, Islamist militants invade churches to ensure that men and women sit on separate benches.

In a report that the Catholic Diocese of Fada N’Gourma in Burkina Faso shared with Pontifical and charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, it was established that only about 5 percent of villages served by the Diocese receive pastoral care, and that any pastoral activities are permitted under strict supervision of Islamists.

“In many parts of the diocese Islamist sermons have become regular and any other religious practice is forbidden. In others, Catholic services are still permitted, but militants often enter the chapels to ensure that men and women sit on different benches,” the Diocese of Fada N’Gourma told ACN in a report that the foundation shared with ACI Africa Monday, July 25.

The report that ACN published on July 22 indicates that “Islamic terrorism” has become commonplace in Burkina Faso, and that over 90 percent of the villages in the Diocese of Fada N’Gourma are no longer getting pastoral care.

In the report, ACN makes reference to the murder of over twenty people in an attack in Bourasso, in the Northeast of Burkina Faso, and calls attention to what the foundation describes as “a severe deterioration of the situation” in the Diocese of Fada N’Gourma, in the Eastern part of the West African country, over the past six months.


The charity foundation notes that so far, five Parishes had to be completely closed, and, because of the danger of terrorist attacks, Priests are only able to minister to 5 percent of the villages in those that remain open.

ACN reportes that robberies, kidnappings and murders have increased significantly in the Diocese of Fada N’Gourma in 2022.

Out of the sixteen Parishes in the Diocese, 5 have been directly targeted by violent attacks and have had to close for security reasons, the foundation that reaches out to the people of God experiencing religious persecution reports.

“In another seven parishes, services are limited to the main church, because most of the roads are blocked by the terrorists, who control a majority of land routes and have destroyed telephone communication networks, making it impossible for priests to travel or get in touch with people from the villages they serve,” ACN reports, and adds, “In the remaining four parishes freedom of movement is very limited.”

The Pontifical entity reports that until September 2021, only 29 percent of the Diocesan territory was accessible for pastoral work, that is, 155 out of 532 villages. In April 2022, however, the number of accessible villages had decreased to only 29, or 5.5 percent.

More in Africa

According to ACN, the cause for this state of affairs is the Islamist insurgency that the foundation says has swept the country since 2015, “and which continues to increase its reach.”

“At first the Jihadists did not seem to be preoccupied with the Christian presence, but that changed in 2019,” ACN reports, and adds, “Since the crisis began, communities have been subjected to violence, murders and all types of abuse.”

“Many people have been kidnapped. Some were freed after questioning, others remain in captivity and yet others were murdered,” the report shared with ACI Africa indicates, and continues, “Large-scale cattle theft has become an everyday occurrence. All this causes panic among the population and leads many to flee, reducing communities to ghost-towns.”

The report that the Diocese of Fada N’Gourma sent to ACN quotes a local Priest who describes how the terrorists operate.

The Priest describes an attack on February 28, when the town hall and the police station in the town of Tambaga, in the Eastern part of the Diocese of Fada N’Gourma, were burned to the ground.


He says that for a few days the terrorists took over the streets and the inhabitants of the town were taken to the mosque and asked to convert to Islam.

In the report, the Priest recalls the words that the Islamists used. They said, “Issa (Jesus) has come, but his mission is over. He promised he would be followed by a successor, and that successor is Mohammed.”

“They then burnt down the local Catholic school, the public school and a private school,” the Priest says.

ACN notes that when the crisis began in the Diocese of Fada N’Gourma, it looked as if the Northern part of the Diocese would be safe, adding, “However, the terrorists made very quick progress in the area over the past few months.”

The Pontifical foundation observes that despite the terrible situation the Christians in the Diocese of Fada N’Gourma find themselves in, their religious enthusiasm remains strong.

(Story continues below)

“Without priests, the laity have taken charge. Every Sunday the parish church fills with Christians who came to Matiakoali (a town in north-eastern Burkina Faso) seeking safety,” ACN reports, and adds, “Christians from nearby villages, where it is more dangerous to gather, try to make the trip occasionally, to take part in common worship. During Easter celebrations the chancellor of the diocese was flown in by helicopter to baptize 32 adults and confirm 34.”

This story was first published by ACI Africa on 26 July 2022

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.