Burkina Faso Forum to Reflect on “what it means to be a Christian in insecurity context”

Fr. Pierre Claver Belemsigri, Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina and Niger.

Amid increasing concerns of insecurity in the Sahel, Church leaders in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, where places of worship have been targeted in attack, are planning a forum that will offer Christians in the landlocked country an opportunity to reflect on their Christian calling in the face of persecution.

“We are thinking hard about the best way to respond to this challenge,” the Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina and Niger, Fr. Pierre Claver Belemsigri said in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International referencing the challenge of insecurity in his country.

In the interview published Monday, March 16, Fr. Pierre Claver said that the conference of Bishops is “planning to organise a large forum this year, devoted to questions around pastoral care and security.”

The Burkinabe cleric said that the planned forum “will be an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a Christian and how to live our life in the new context of insecurity and attacks on places of worship.”

Burkina Faso, one of the nine countries encompassed in the Sahel region has been facing rampant violence occasioned by political crises in the country, which offer a fertile ground for the proliferation of extremist groups such as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and the al-Qaeda affiliate Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin.


Due to the insecurity, “Burkina Faso has become one of the fastest-growing displacement crises in Africa,” a UN report shows, with an estimated 2.2 million people in need of humanitarian aid in 2020.

The jihadist attacks have often targeted Christians with ACN International estimating a death toll of at least 60 Christians in the country in 2019 alone. 

In light of the persecutions and attacks on Christians, Fr. Pierre Claver expressed confidence that the planned forum “will undoubtedly be necessary to find new ways of expressing our Catholic faith,” and at the same time offer an opportunity to address questions on the Church’s response to the crisis of insecurity.

Following an attack on a Canadian mining convoy in November 2019 that killed 38 people and injured 60 more in Burkina Faso, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of terror attacks “who for some time have been tried by recurrent violence” in the country and appealed for interreligious dialogue to end the crisis.

Despite the attacks, the Burkinabe cleric confirmed to ACN International that dialogue between Christians and Muslims seems to be progressing well.

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“In the province of Soum (northern Burkina Faso), which is so harassed by the terrorists today, we have an interfaith organisation known as the ‘Fraternal Union of Believers (UFC).’ It is a forum in which Muslims, Catholics, Protestants and members of traditional African religions can meet together to speak about mutual coexistence and the building of civil society,” Fr. Pierre Claver recounted during his interview with ACN in Ouagadougou.

Explaining the impact of the interreligious dialogue, the Secretary General revealed that “at Christmas the leaders of the Muslim community come to Mass and wish the Catholics a happy Christmas. And during Ramadan the bishop or the priests go to the mosques in the same way to offer their good wishes.” 

With a 25 percent Catholic population, Fr. Pierre Claver is optimistic that faith is growing “not simply on account of demographic growth, but also because of genuine conversions to Christianity.”

“I have personally witnessed the baptism of an entire Muslim family,” Fr. Pierre Claver recalled and added, “The daughter, who had attended a Catholic school run by nuns, was the first to convert, but then she brought her entire family to the faith.”

Besides the conversions, the West African cleric noted that the recent terrorist attacks against Christians “have actually strengthened the faith of the people. Despite the danger, the people are proud to be Catholics.”


He expressed confidence in the protective presence of God saying, “The Lord is in control, Christ is alive.”

“Our country has been witness to this (God’s control) on many occasions in its recent history. I hope that the same thing will happen now, in the face of this terrorism,” Fr. Pierre Claver said and added, “There needs to be a national awakening and a popular resistance. Weapons alone are not enough.”

Sadly, the priest said, “the rest of the world doesn’t seem to have understood that our country runs the risk of disappearing if we do not all unite together against the terrorists, in prayer, unity and solidarity.”

In his report on the Sahel crisis to the UN Security Council in January  2020, the UN Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS),  Mohamed Ibn Chambas noted that that the number of deaths in Burkina Faso had risen from about 80 in 2016 to at least 1,800 in 2019.

Displacement grew ten-fold to affect an estimated 500,000; besides about 25,000 people have fled to other countries, the UNOWAS chief reported.

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