Father Simeon Yampa funeral

Jihadists in Burkina Faso murder Catholic priest in a parish built with the help of ACN

Staff at the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) were deeply shocked and saddened to hear the news of the murder of Father Simeon Yampa, parish priest of the parish of Dablo, in central northern Burkina Faso.

 

Father Simeon Yampa's church was attacked on Sunday 12 May, just after the celebration of Holy Mass had begun, by a group of 20 or so armed men, who murdered the priest and five of his faithful.

According to local sources with whom ACN was able to speak, the attackers burst into the church, shooting, just as the congregation was singing the Gloria. Five members of the congregation were shot and killed. The chapel is small, but, including those standing outside, there were around a hundred worshippers at the time. Three bullets struck the Tabernacle. Father Simeon tried to rescue the altar servers, by ushering them into the sacristy, but the terrorists went through the church and discovered him, shooting him dead on the spot.

“There was a general panic, and people were terrified. The killers forced the faithful to remove the crucifixes and religious items they were wearing and put them down in front of the altar. They threatened the entire congregation before leaving, warning them that they would return and that if the women were not all covered in veils, they would kill them all. Then they set fire to the sacristy, the crucifixes and all the liturgical objects, and also to a vehicle standing outside the church. Then they went to the dispensary and burned the vehicle there also so that nobody could escape”, explained Rafael D’Aqui, who heads ACN’s Africa desk for the area including Burkina Faso.

The parish house in Dablo, which stands next to the chapel and forms part of the parish, which is dedicated to Blessed Isidore Bakanja and includes 18 other villages, was built just six years ago with help from ACN.

Rafael D’Aqui, profoundly moved by the events, went on to explain that “ACN helped this community in 2013 because, although they had had a chapel for many years, they wanted to establish a proper parish there where there would be a stable presence of the Church. In the financial report sent to ACN after completion of the presbytery, the priest had described how this was a historic moment, filled with emotion, for the entire Christian community. They were so happy at the prospect of having a permanent priestly presence, supporting the eight catechists who were already there. It was a dream come true for them, and their joy was plain to see on all their faces”, he recalls.

Dablo lies in an impoverished and arid region, where the lack of rain makes it difficult for people to grow sufficient food, yet when the parish was founded there was no fear of any danger. Burkina Faso was regarded as an example of interreligious peace and harmony. As Rafael D’Aqui explains, the report from the parish struck a profoundly optimistic note: “With your help, the team of priests in charge of the parish will be able to quietly develop a range of pastoral activities for the local people.” Until now the religious minorities, including the Christians (23.9% of the population) and animists (21.3%) have not suffered any discrimination in this majority Muslim country, where there has traditionally been a relationship of mutual understanding between the different faith communities – a fact also underlined by the most recent report on World Religious Freedom published by the foundation ACN.

Although it is true that from a political perspective Burkina Faso has for some years been the target of jihadist attacks, fuelled by its northern neighbours Mali and Niger, these attacks were not directed at other religions. However, the situation has changed abruptly in recent months, and now, after a series of incidents – attacks, abductions threats and intimidation – everything appears to point to the fact that Christians have now become one of the targets of the jihadists, intending to destabilise the country.

Just two weeks or so ago, on 28 April, Pierre Ouedraogo, Protestant pastor was murdered together with two of his children and three other worshippers, in an attack on his church in Silgadji, around 60 km from Djibo, likewise in the north of the country. Three members of the Christian clergy have been assassinated in 2019. In addition to Father Simeon Yampa, the Catholic priest murdered in Dablo, and the Protestant pastor Pierre Ouedraogo killed in Silgadji, another priest was murdered on 15 February, Salesian missionary Father César Fernández, of Spanish origin, who was shot dead during an attack on a customs post in the south of the country close to the frontier with Togo. Also missing, whereabouts unknown is Father Joel Yougbare, a Catholic priest abducted on 17 March on the border with Mali.

ACN has likewise reported a number of threats against Catholic communities in various parts of the country, which have forced Sunday Masses to be cancelled and even obliged communities of religious sisters to vacate their convents. “The jihadist groups are going through the villages threatening local inhabitants and demanding they convert to Islam, shutting down Christian communities and places of worship, and also schools and health centres”, Rafael D’Aqui explains.

“The Church in Burkina Faso is suffering greatly from the situation but impresses me with its fortitude. The international community needs to respond, rather than to leave Burkina Faso to become a fiefdom of the Islamist fundamentalists. Let us pray that peace may return to this country”, he continues.

“Father Simeon only arrived in this parish in September last year, and the fact that he died on Good Shepherd Sunday is a moving sign for us. It is important to emphasise that his funeral on Monday 13 May was attended not only by two government ministers and by Church representatives (three bishops and the secretary of the Nunciature) but also by many animists and Muslims who are completely opposed to such barbaric acts”, D’Aqui concludes.


Noman Pakistan

Noman; a young Catholic on the harsh environment for Christians in Pakistan

Noman is a young Catholic living in Karachi, Pakistan. In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, he talks about the discrimination and mistreatment he experienced at school because of his Christian faith.

Here is Noman’s story:

“I am a first-year student of business. My hobbies include cricket and soccer. I am a Christian. No one in my family has been kidnapped or victimized by violence, but I have faced discrimination from classmates and teachers because of my religion.

“When I reported a Muslim classmate for cheating, the teacher said: ‘He doesn’t cheat. You did it.’ The classmate called me ‘bhangie’, which means ‘street sweeper’ or ‘gutter cleaner’; he made fun of me and used words that were disrespectful of my faith. But I could not respond in kind. If I had done so, I could’ve been charged with blasphemy, and my family would have suffered. So I stayed silent.

“Both my teacher and my principal were well-aware of the situation. My mother was called in to speak with my teacher, but they were not ready to listen to my version of what happened. They even refused to give me a form that the school required for exams—so one year of my studies was wasted.

“But I am thankful to God, who has not abandoned my family. He was there when a friend of my mother offered to pay for my education, which my parents could not afford at the time. The happiest moment of my life was when I completed High School; I was the first person to do so in my family.

“I now study business at a government college. I attend classes for half the year; I spend the other half working as a salesman at the mall because it is hard for my father to cover all the family’s living expenses. Even in hardship, God has never forsaken me. He has always helped and loved me. God and my family, especially my mother, are the reasons for my happiness.

“Despite what I’ve experienced, I believe that I will be successful. And when I worry, I recite Psalm 23; I always carry a rosary with me as well.

“Western countries should support poor Pakistani Christian students with housing and academic opportunities so that they can at least lead better, more stable lives.

Otherwise, I have no hope for Pakistan’s minorities remaining in the country. If I could gather all of the world’s leaders in one room, I would say that I only want free education for our children.”


Asia Bibi

Asia Bibi flies to freedom

‘Today is a day of rejoicing’ – Neville Kyrke-Smith

By John Pontifex

 

ASIA Bibi’s flight to Canada has been hailed as “the news we had all been hoping and praying for” – according to the head of a Catholic organisation committed to helping victims of injustice in Pakistan.

Father Emmanuel ‘Mani’ Yousaf, National Director of Pakistan’s Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, said in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “For almost 10 years now, this is the day all of us have been waiting for when the family can, at last, be reunited.” And Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, Aid to the Church in Need (UK), said: “Thank you to so many people who have prayed and campaigned for Asia Bibi’s release. “Today is a day of rejoicing.”

Paying tribute to Aid to the Church in Need and all those who have appealed for justice for Asia Bibi, Father Yousaf said: “There are so many who deserve our congratulations for all that they have done for Asia in her struggle to regain her freedom.” The comments come amid breaking news that the Christian woman, formerly on death row for blasphemy, has finally left her native Pakistan and travelled to Canada, where her two daughters, Eisham and Esha, are now living. Father Yousaf said: “We thank God that the family is now being reunited at long last.

“We pray to God that they will have a better future and can put behind them nearly 10 years of suffering. “We thank God that justice has prevailed.”

Asia Bibi was charged with blasphemy in 2009, a crime punishable by death. Last October the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted her, confirming its decision in an appeal hearing in January, but she was not allowed to follow her wish and leave the country – until today. Mr Kyrke-Smith said: “At Aid to the Church in Need, we were privileged to welcome some of Asia Bibi’s family to the UK last year. “We are sure that the presentations they made gave added impetus to finding a solution for Asia who had suffered unjust imprisonment for nearly 10 years.”

He added: However, today is also a day tinged with great sadness – as we remember those others who are still incarcerated or unjustly accused under the Blasphemy Laws today as well as those who sacrificed so much for Asia Bibi, particularly the politicians Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, who gave up their lives in the pursuit of freedom for Asia. “Our prayers and our work will continue to help all those who are unjustly accused by radical fundamentalists and who cannot practise their Christian faith freely.”