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Niger

 

ACN FEATURE STORY— INTER-RELIGIOUS CONFERENCES IN NIGER

30.07.2019 in ACN PROJECTS, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, by Matthias Böhnke & Thomas Oswald, Niger, Persecution of Christians, SUBSISTENCE

Niger

Inter-religious conferences to unleash the “good”

“Less than one per cent of the about 15 million inhabitants of the diocese of Maradi are Christian,” reported Bishop Ambroise Ouédraogo in an interview with ACN International. The 70-year-old cleric is the first, and so far the only bishop of the diocese of Maradi, one of two dioceses in Niger, a landlocked country in western Africa.

 

by Matthias Böhnke & Thomas Oswald, for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on line, July 30, 2019

 

For the most part, the about 5,000 to 6,000 Catholics in his diocese coexisted for years safely with the majority Muslim population, said the bishop. “That changed in 2015, when caricatures critical of Islam published by the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo unleashed a wave of violence.” Within a few hours, at least ten Christians were killed and over 70 churches and other Christian institutions were destroyed in the numerous riots that broke out across the country. About 80 percent of the Christian churches in the country were targeted—particularly those in the regions of Niamey and Zinder.

“Christians deeply feared the radical Islamic fundamentalists. And still do as time and again, at irregular intervals, incidents are directed against Christians,” reported Bishop Ouédraogo. Just two weeks ago in his diocese, the Protestant church in Maradi was set on fire by radical groups who were protesting the incarceration of an imam. He had been arrested after speaking out in his sermons against a draft law for stricter regulation of funding sources for the construction and operation of private places of worship. In spite of the demonstrations, the law was passed by parliament on Monday, June 17.

 

 

Evil unleashed elsewhere, spreading as if with an accelerant

Sister Marie Catherine Kingbo lives eight kilometres from Maradi, the scene of the most recent attack with her congregation the Fraternité des Servantes du Christ (Fraternity of the Servants of Christ). In an interview with ACN she said, “We expected attacks, but we did not think that they would be triggered by a draft law.” The situation in Niger has changed beyond recognition since she came to the country 15 years ago. At that time, hardly any tensions existed between the religions, she explained. “Now I hear even Muslims say that there are too many mosques and Quran schools, and not enough wells and hospitals,” Sister Catherine continued. Her congregation and the pupils that she teaches are under constant police protection for fear of Islamist attacks. “The evil that was unleashed in Libya, Syria and other countries in northern Africa and the Middle East is spreading like an accelerant here as well,” she deplored.

 

“We will not go. They may have guns, but we have Jesus!”

But Sister Catherine is convinced: it is not only evil that is spreading, but also good! Her religious order organizes many campaigns for the benefit of society. The Sisters help women in need, but also organize an encounter between Christians and Muslims each year. In 2006, the first of these inter-religious conferences took place with 28 people. By 2018, the number had grown to 350. Relations with local imams and neighbours are good, Sister Catherine said. Which is why she will not even consider cutting back her efforts out of fear of extremist attacks. “We will not go. They may have guns, but we have Jesus!”

“Many Muslims find the current situation absolutely disgraceful and show solidarity for the Christians”

Bishop Ouédraogo feels the same way. He has never called the cooperation and dialogue with Muslims into question. “Many Muslims find the current situation absolutely disgraceful and show solidarity for the Christians,” the bishop insisted. “95 to 98 percent of the pupils at our institutions are Muslim, and Caritas also carries out projects in regions which are almost exclusively Muslim. We do not discriminate. And this will remain so.”

 

The pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been supporting the Church in Niger for many years and has approved funding in such areas as the formation of faith and to help priests in the country secure a means of subsistence.

 

 

 

Night of Witnesses – The testimony of Mother Mary Catherine KINGBO of Niger

11.04.2017 in ACN France, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Feature Story, Niger, Sisters

Night of Witnesses – Paris, France

The testimony of Mother Mary Catherine of Niger

It is early January 2015. There is a media flurry of the Mohammed cartoons in the satirical French Paris based magazine Charlie Hebdo, and tension is mounting in Niger.

On January 16 and 17, incensed crowds of Muslim demonstrators begin attacking churches and schools, convents and religious houses, as well as individual Christian citizens. The most seriously affected regions are those of Zinder and Niamey, fires are also burning in Maradi and in other regions. We, the Catholic religious Sisters who established ourselves here in Niger in 2006, prepare ourselves for the worst.

Niger, diocese of Maradi in 2016 – Emergency help for the refugees and displaced people because of Boko Haram in the region of Diffa by the Caritas Development Maradi/Niger: Woman receives  relief supplies

In some countries of Africa, people associate Christianity with the West. In some of the villages of Niger, people even thought I must have been white at birth, because I was Catholic! As you can see, what you do in the West has an impact on us Christians here – and all the more so since the population of Niger is 98% Muslim! During this time of suffering and uncertainty, my daily prayer is inspired by these words of the Prophet Micah: “O my people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me.” Yes, these people who have benefited from so much care, education and love from the Catholic Church in Niger, who have come knocking on our doors, day and night, asking for food and help in their poverty. These are the same people who have now turned against us. Throwing stones at us, burning our churches and trying to prevent us from wearing a cross.

Had it not been for the intervention of the police during that month of January 2015, we would not have been spared. In the community of which I am the Superior General we were a group of 20 or so Sisters and novices. Some were afraid. So I put this question to them: Do you want to leave or remain here? Not one of them left, despite their fear and insecurity. We remained barricaded inside the convent, unable to attend Mass, for three weeks. We adored, and prayed as usual. I trusted in God, and in the people whom we are helping.

Now that you know this, make my true face known in a Muslim environment.” That was how the Lord asked me to be his witness. The place of this mission came to me clearly in the course of my prayer: “Set out for Niger.”

Niger, diocese of Maradi in 2016 – Emergency help for refugees and displaced people because of Boko Haram in the region of Diffa by the Caritas Development Maradi/Niger: The plastic sheeting is covering the huts of the displaced and refugees 

You know, it has been 11 years since I came from Senegal to help the people of Niger, as God asked of me. One day in 2005, as I was following a course in Islam, I understood how the Muslims see Christ. Not as the Son of God, who died on the cross and was raised, but as a simple prophet. I was astonished, because they did not know this God of love and goodness. And then, it was if I was being challenged by Christ in these words: “Now that you know this, make my true face known in a Muslim environment.” That was how the Lord asked me to be his witness. The place of this mission came to me clearly in the course of my prayer: “Set out for Niger.”

In 2006 I left to begin my new mission, accompanied by a young Senegalese postulant, and we founded the first indigenous religious congregation there, the “Fraternité des Servantes du Christ (Fraternity of the Servants of Christ)”, with the approval of the diocesan bishop.

The objective was to show forth the tender face of the Lord, not to compel the Muslims to become Christians. We began by going through the villages, talking to the local people in order to get to know them better. We soon so many realized the precarious existence that a large proportion of the people were living in, especially the women and the children. Something had to be done to remedy the situation. For example, we met Absou, aged 27, with six children, a blind husband and no work. We invited her to come to our nutrition and healthcare centre for children and expectant mothers. We also discovered that young girls are sometimes given in marriage from the age of 11 to 12, and that some of them die as a result, in giving birth to their first child. And so we decided to organize teaching sessions for the mothers and young women, for the village chiefs, the young boys and the imams. We also wanted to get them to think about the radicalization of some of the young people, the preaching of some of the imams who incite people to violence, the consequences of the actions perpetrated by terrorists around the world.

“What unites us is neither religion, nor ethnicity, but love.”

In 2007, 24 participants attended our first session for the imams and village chiefs. It was incredible; we had never imagined that such people would respond to the appeal of a woman, a religious and a stranger! The most remarkable thing was when I asked the question, “Are you not bothered by a religious, a foreigner and a Catholic challenging your way of thinking?” One of them gave me this surprising and encouraging reply: “What unites us is neither religion, nor ethnicity, but love.” So without knowing it, he was already talking about God. Currently we have more than a hundred imams and village chiefs attending these meetings every year.

Night of Witnesses – France (Paris cathedral) 2017

Today, indeed, the mentality has changed very much for the better.  A Nigerian woman –formerly Muslim – has joined our community and wants to become a nun! At the age of 15 she felt the desire to turn to Christ, to convert and to enter into the Consecrated Life. However, her choice did not come without difficulty leaving her rejected by her family who no longer wanted to have any contact with her, but who came around in the end. Also, there is also a Muslim dignitary in our district who has entrusted us with his seven-year-old daughter and wants her to become a boarder and a Catholic. Her faith has begun to awaken in her, and she is currently attending our preschool.

 I would like to ask you to pray the “Hail Mary,” each of you in your own language, for all women who suffer.

There is still, however, some way to go to reach many hearts. Last December, a group of young men violently harassed one of our workers, just because he was working for us, the Sisters. More than once, we have been subjected to having stones thrown on our roof during the evening office. One Christmas Day, outside the doors of our convent, some children came to shout insults at us. In the face of such aggression, since October 2014, we have had two police officers posted 24 hours a day at the entrance to our convent.
We, the Sisters of the Fraternité des Servantes du Christ, who are all from different backgrounds – from Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal and from Chad – have left everything in order to reveal the true face of the Lord, who is only LOVE. We draw our strength these words of Christ: “I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”

Conclusion
To all of you who support us, and to all the television viewers, I would like to say Thank you! Despite the increasing insecurity in Niger, it is thanks to your perseverance in prayer and your support that we will be kept safe and be able to lead men and women of all nations to Christ, the Alpha and the Omega. I would like to ask you to pray the “Hail Mary,” each of you in your own language, for all women who suffer.

 


 

FEATURE STORY – Niger: “They set fire to our churches, but our hearts are still ablaze out of love for them.”

15.07.2015 in ACN Feature, By Antonia von Alten, Niger, Persecution of Christians

Niger

“They set fire to our churches, but our hearts are still ablaze out of love for them.”

The violent outbursts against Christians in Niger are incomprehensible to Bishop Ambroise Ouédraogo – and yet he still wants to work together with the Muslims 

Six months after the riots against Christians in Niger, the fear of violence is great among Catholics, but at the same time the Catholic parishes are as lively as ever. The Bishop of the Nigerien diocese of Maradi, Ambroise Ouédraogo, said this recently (July 6) when talking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) at the headquarters of the international pastoral charity in Königstein.

 

One week after the terrorist attack on the editorial offices of the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” (January 7, 2015) there were violent assaults on Christians and Christian churches in the capital of Niger, Niamey, and in the second largest city of the country, Zinder (diocese of Maradi). Except for the cathedral of Niamey and a church in the outskirts of the capital, all churches in Niger were looted, ravaged and set fire to. One of the churches destroyed had only been consecrated in November 2014.

 

Tthree of the four cars, all burnt with petrol and fire by the tehe shock was great. After all, up to this point Christians and Muslims had lived together in peace in this West African country. Bishop Ouédraogo still can’t understand it: “Why did they attack us, especially since we have had such a good mutual understanding?” The only possible explanation he believes is: “They mixed up ‘Charlie Hebdo’ with Christianity.” For those who torched and ravaged the Churches it was Christians who drew the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

 

In the view of Bishop Ouédraogo, the Nigerien Christians are “collateral victims.” His message to the people of Europe is therefore: “Freedom of the press in Europe is fine. But you have to handle this freedom with caution and be aware of the impact it will have in other countries. Europe is not Africa and Africa is not Europe,” according to Ouédraogo. “The sensitivities in Africa are different from those in Europe.”

“Living communities have emerged and I believe that is a blessing.”

 

God wants happiness for all

Fearing further attacks, about 200 Christians from Zinder had fled to the neighbouring countries Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin and even Nigeria, Bishop Ouédraogo reported. Most of them have since returned. The Catholics come together for Holy Mass in the open or in halls which they do up and decorate themselves for the Masses. The terrible events have strengthened their faith, according to Ouédraogo. “Living communities have emerged and I believe that is a blessing.”

 

niger

 

Many Muslims don’t know how they should conduct themselves towards Christians after the attacks. “They’re out of their depth,” said Bishop Ouédraogo. “They are sorry for what happened, but they can’t say it officially.”

Many Muslims were amazed that the Catholic bishops forgive those who caused them suffering. “They set fire to our churches, but our hearts are still ablaze out of love for them. Christian or Muslim – God wishes good fortune for all people.”

It is still not clear as far as the Bishop is concerned who destroyed the churches. “But this is not the time to accuse anyone.” In matters of education and charity the Nigerien Catholics continue to work together with the Muslims in the interreligious commission. After all, Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, faces many challenges. The majority of the Nigerien population regularly face life-threatening periods of drought and famine – including at the present time. Niger is an Islamic state and 98 per cent of the 17 million inhabitants are adherents of Islam. There is a small Catholic community of about 21,000 faithful living in 2 dioceses.

 

celebration of the holy mass in the hospital with the refugiesB“We pray for all those who help us”

Aid to the Church in Need supported the pastoral work of the country in 2014 to the tune of $117,500. This was used to support the extension of a convent and the construction of one of the churches which had been destroyed in January. Three sisters were awarded stipends and a grant was given to summer youth camps.

Bishop Ouédraogo is grateful to all those who support the Nigerien Catholics with their prayers and donations. “Our cry for help was heard in the western world. We pray for all those who help us.”

donateImmediately after the attacks in January Aid to the Church in Need gave $41,850 as emergency aid for the victims. Bishop Ouédraogo and the faithful in Niger were moved by this spontaneous support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACN News : Niger “The Christians must die, according to the disciples of Boko Haram”

28.01.2015 in ACN Canada, Niger, Persecution of Christians, Sisters

© Aid to the Church in Need

Niger

“The Christians must die, according to the disciples of Boko Haram” 

By Dennis Peters / Maria Lozano, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

The islamist terror group Boko Haram wants to massacre all the Christians in Níger. So writes a missionary Sister in a dramatic e-mail message from the country. As a result of the violence, this Sister was forced to flee, along with the rest of her congregation, and they are now living in hiding with a family in the capital Niamey. In her e-mail she describes the terrible violence in the capital and in the town of Zinder, the second largest city in Niger. To protect her safety, we are not revealing her name.

The violent protests in Niger last week in reaction to the French satirical weekly Charlie hebdo claimed the lives of at least ten people and left 173 wounded. According to the Sister, these attacks “were planned.” 

 

Love is stronger than hatred

“At Christmas time Boko Haram had threatened to burn down all the churches in Niger and burn us alive! But for some reason it did not happen; no one knows quite why. It was by coincidence that the cartoons in Charlie hebdo set the world on fire. The Christians must die; that way we will be able to go to paradise, say the disciples of Boko Haram. It’s diabolical. But we are not going to let ourselves be moved by fear. Love is stronger than hatred.”

But apart from the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, it was also “the social crisis in Niger” that was one of the reasons for these cruel protests, she writes. In her e-mail, headed with the word “peace,” the Sister asks: “Why so much hatred and violence? Peace is not simply a word. We know just how fragile everything is. We have to work so hard to achieve peace, and starting with ourselves. Why so much hatred, so much violence? We are weeping. The tears are flowing. O Jesus, save us!”

She relates what had happened: “It started in Zinder first of all – with five deaths, four people inside a church and one in a bar. The French cultural centre was attacked and totally burned out, as was the BRS Bank also. The church was also set on fire, where the White Fathers live, and next door to them the Sisters of the Assumption, their house, the cars and the school – everything was on fire. They have nothing left except their lives, and that alone is something to be grateful for. They were able to flee in time and took refuge on a military base. One of the White Fathers, Father Ghislaine, was injured and is in hospital, but not too seriously.”

According to the Sister, the violence in Niamey was “on a major scale.” She describes how a group of men on motorcycles looted “the churches, one after another,” then destroyed them and burned them. “They took away everything they could use and then set fire to them, with cans of petrol. They also burned the Protestant and Evangelical churches – altogether around 40 churches; it was incredible!” But then they also looted and burned down bars, restaurants and petrol stations. Afterwards, they went on to attack the orphanages. “Fortunately the carers were able to take the children to where the police were, where they were safe, but they stole all the supplies of food,” she writes. According to the Sister, the nuns of Mother Teresa were at least able to save their hospital, along with its patients. The violent demonstrators were about to set fire to the hospital, but the Sisters bravely asked them: “Can we first of all take out the patients before you set fire to it? These words gave the rebels pause for thought and as a result they did not touch the hospital, but nevertheless they still burned down the church.”

 

© Aid to the Church in Need

© Aid to the Church in Need

“We had to flee immediately”

Continuing her account, the Sister writes: “When the bishop heard that the two communities of Sisters were being attacked, Msgr. Laurent phoned both communities and told them they must flee immediately and seek refuge. We had already had phone calls from concerned Muslim friends, who had urged us: ‘Come with us, they will not burn down the neighbourhood where they themselves live.’ You never know with these gangs. I went to the chapel with another sister to consume the Blessed Sacrament, because they also try to burn the Tabernacles. We locked everything up, hoping to find the others again.”

Between them the Sisters did all they could in the little time they had. In the midst of the drama there was one Sister in the community who was from Rwanda – and who knew what it meant to flee, having been through the cruel genocide in Rwanda in 1994. She put on all the clothes she could find. “She had on five skirts and five blouses, one on top of the other. We were in fits of laughter when she came out of her room, like a giant; she could scarcely walk, she had so many clothes on! One of the other missionaries had only just returned from Poland and had not even had time to unpack her things, but we had to flee immediately.

 

“Pray for us, for our people, for the world.”

What a shock it was for her! The neighbours came to say goodbye, with tears in their eyes. We entrusted the key of the house to one of them. It was very emotional. A Middle Eastern family took us in, with the hospitality that the people of the East are known for. On the way we saw a Protestant church that had already been totally burnt out. No, it was incredible in a country so peaceful as Niger… But no, now Niger is no longer peaceful. For now we are safe, and living with a family. We pray, keep silence; respond to innumerable telephone calls from friends who are concerned for us and from other sisters. On Sunday we did not go to church, but last night there were two priests who came to celebrate Mass in a small downstairs room. It was very moving, as it was quite unplanned. God does not desert us. He is balm for our hearts, and our faith grows stronger.”

ACN-20131214-03689“We are at peace again. We do not intend to let ourselves be moved by violence or fear. No one knows what the future will bring. Let us only hope it will be more peaceful and that we will be able to return to live in community.”

The Sister concludes her message by asking our prayers for the situation in Niger. “Pray for us, for our people, for the world. So that the Light of the Love of Christ may be able to shine forth!”