OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Suspected Muslim extremists attacked a Catholic church in Burkina Faso, killing four people and raising the death toll among Christians to 20 in wave of violence in the West Africa nation.
The worshippers were killed when armed assailants broke into Our Lady of All Joy Church in the village of Toulfe during Mass May 26 and opened fire, Bishop Justin Kientega of Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso, said in a statement. Two people, including an elderly catechist, were wounded, he said.
Father Simeon Yampa, was killed in extremist attacks on Catholic parishes during May in Burkina Faso. These followed other attacks against Catholics in February and March.
The bishop urged Catholics to “pray for peace and the conversion of the executioners.”
The Le Faso daily said no group had claimed responsibility for the attack, but reported that the government had blamed Muslim militants operating in the Sahel region from neighboring Mali.
The violence was the most recent against Christian churches in the country. Masked attackers murdered four people during a church procession May 13 in Zimtenga; a priest and five lay Catholics were killed by assailants on motorbikes during a Mass May 12 in Dablo; and a Protestant pastor with five followers died in an attack April 29 in Silgadji near the border with Mali.
Overall, at least 400 people have died in attacks on churches, schools and government buildings in Burkina Faso, whose mostly Muslim-inhabited northern provinces have been targeted by extremists since the October 2014 ouster of President Blaise Compaore.
Pledge of solidarity
Bishops’ conferences from Francophone West Africa have pledged solidarity with Christian communities after a spate of Islamist attacks and urged governments and religious leaders to do more to counter “unlooked-for menaces, tragedies and catastrophes.”
“Terrorist outrages are sowing desolation and disorder, especially in Christian communities — with hearts full of emotion and sadness, we think of brothers and sisters who’ve paid with their lives for fidelity to the Gospel and devotion to the Virgin Mary,” stated the Regional Episcopal Conference of Francophone West Africa, known by the French acronym, CERAO.
“We express our strongest condemnation at this disquieting wave of violence and assure our bruised brethren of solidarity, prayerful communion and compassion.”
In a joint pastoral message, published May 22 after their weeklong assembly in Ouagadougou, the bishops said epidemics, ecological disasters and “new outbreaks of intercommunal and interreligious violence” had been compounded by chaotically organized elections, attacks on democracy and “new forms of terrorism,” as well as mass migration, which had made young people vulnerable to slave traders and human traffickers.
“Religious leaders must rise together to denounce any instrumentalization of religion, particularly killings perpetrated in the name of God,” according to the Catholic bishops from Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Benin, Mali, Togo, Ivory Coast and Guinea.
“The Church also wishes to collaborate with politicians in fostering good governance, a democratic state of law, elections which are transparent, just and credible, and a respect for national constitutions, the verdict of ballot boxes and democratic alternatives.”
The bishops said “bad governance, insecurity, education system disfunctions and lack of employment opportunities” had all contributed to local misfortunes, adding that the Catholic Church was promoting education and entrepreneurship, while helping combat “poverty, criminality, despair and unemployment.”