Vatican City (Fides Service) – “Despite difficulties connected with the precarious living conditions of the local people, the missionary vitality of your diocesan Churches has expressed itself in various forms”, Pope John Paul II told the Catholic Bishops of Burkina Faso and Niger, whom he received in audience for their ad limina visit on 17 June 2003.
On the occasion of the ad limina visit Fides Service asked Bishop Philippe Ouedrago of Ouahigouya, who is president of the Bishops’ Conference for Burkina Faso and Niger, about the present situation in these two countries.
In his address to you the Pope mentioned the problems of eliminating poverty and promoting development. How do the local Churches contribute in these fields?
Everything that concerns the people cannot fail to concern the Church. This is why, we, the Catholic community in Burkina Faso, feel we have an active role to play to contribute to the development of the whole people, Christians and non. We have set up a special body for development projects: the OCADES Catholic Organisation for Development and Solidarity. It works in collaboration with the John Paul II Sahel Foundation. Its projects are divided in 3 areas: development (promoting projects which concern mainly farming, management of water, digging of wells, organising farm co-operatives. etc); assistance (helping the poor, instruction, etc…); justice and peace. I would dwell a moment on the latter because one of the problems we face is to help young women avoid the sad custom of arranged matrimony: all too often young girls of 13 or 14 are forced to marry men who are much older. We offer girls who want to avoid this practice accommodation in local convents where they can study and prepare for family life free of forceful practices.
How is the Church in Burkina Faso involved in interreligious dialogue?
We live in a country which is varied from the point of view of religions. Most of the people are Muslims, then there followers of traditional African religions, and lastly there are the Christians, mostly Catholics and a small number of other Christians.
Relations with Muslims are facilitated by the fact that Islam south of the Sahara is generally open and tolerant. Moreover in our countries, ties of family and blood are stronger that those of religion. There are many mixed marriages and this builds relations. In the same family you can find Christians and Muslims and animists and this causes no difficulty. At Easter and Christmas Muslims come to Mass to share the festivity with the Christians; the same happens with Muslims feasts in which Christians share the joy of Muslims. When there is a birth or death in a family, whatever the religion, everyone shares in the joy or the mourning showing solidarity with the family.
Sad to say in our country too we see the advance of fundamentalist movements financed by certain Arab countries, despite the fact that the local Muslim leaders try to stem the phenomenon.
With regard to traditional religions, this environment is very open to Christianity and ti si permeated with values such as tolerance and a spirit of solidarity.
In recent years in Burkina Faso so called “new communities”, religious evangelical sects have begun to spread from Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and even from the Untied States.
What about the question of inculturation of the Gospel?
Inculturation is a challenge for every Particular Church. The problem was dealt with by the Churches of Africa during the Special Synod in 1994. We adopted two criteria in this regard: compatibility with the Gospel message and ecclesial communion. The latter point signifies that every person must feel welcome in the Church in Burkina Faso; to give an example: a Catholic from China must feel at home when he comes to our community. This does not mean that at the liturgical level, for example, we have not introduced elements of local culture, songs and dances of our people. But we do this with moderation.
Your Church, daughter of European missionaries, after only one century of evangelisation sends priests to other countries…
The Church is missionary by nature: unless she is missionary she is not Church. When , in 2000, we celebrated our 100 years of Church history, we examined our missionary spirit. We received the gift of faith from the first missionaries who came to this country (the White Fathers) and we realised that we needed to make still greater efforts for missionary activity. Each diocese offered one of its priests. This enabled us to send our missionaries to the most arid region, the Sahel and also to neighbouring countries: Niger (6 priests), Chad (3) Mali (3), We have one of our priests in France and another in Italy working in a local Church.
In 2000 we set up three groups of diocese which in turn sent priests for mission ad gentes.
LM (Fides Service 23/6/2003 EM lines 67 Words: 857)