Montreal, May 21, 2013 – Presently, Christians living in the north and east of Mali are no longer. An approximate 500 Catholics have now left the region. Although French troops control important towns such as Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu – pastoral workers, men and women in religious orders, cannot return to their mission stations. Brother Wilfried Langer of the Order of White Fathers and Germain Arama, priest and economist of the diocese of Mopti, bore the news during a visit to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Brother Wilfried Langer described the situation in both the north and east of Mali as unclear and deceptive: “The government and army are not permitting any return of pastoral workers and nuns because one of the Islamists’ sources of money is hostage-taking. Millions of euros are being demanded as ransom. The leaders of the Islamists have pulled back across the borders to Algeria, Libya and Mauretania. They are waiting for the French to withdraw.”  Wilfried Langer, originally from Germany, worked as a missionary in Mali from 1963 to 2012. In the past few decades he has supervised numerous parishes and built churches, mission houses and presbyteries.

The context

Fighting broke out in the north of Mali in early 2012 between Tuareg and regular forces; in a region which is about twice the size of Newfoundland-Labrador. The Tuareg joined forces with Islamist groups, who soon seized power. The internal conflicts came to a head when the military toppled the Malian government in the capital of Bamako. Since this strategically important West African country was in danger of falling completely into the hands of Islamist forces. Last January, France in support of the Malian army, finally staged a military intervention.

Also in January last, ACN guaranteed the Malian southern diocese of Mopti $53,000 in emergency relief for 326 refugee families. According to Abbé Germain Arama the money was used to provide initial medical care to the refugees and to buy pharmaceuticals, food and blankets.

Forty thousand Catholics live on the territory of this diocese which is substantially larger than the Province of Manitoba. Throughout its six large parishes, 22 priests are performing pastoral work. In relation to the country as a whole the proportion of mostly Catholic Christians in Mali is only a small one per cent.  Eighty to ninAety per cent of its 16 million inhabitants are Muslim, and the rest are assumed to belong to traditional African religions.

By Reinhard Backes, ACN International

Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada

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