AFRICA/NIGER - A missionary denounces: "The Catholic heart of Niger is on the run"

Tuesday, 18 May 2021 persecutions   jihadists   local churches  

Niamey (Agenzia Fides) - "The number of Catholics who have fled the Dolbel area, the heart of the Catholic Church in Niger, are about a hundred. The number is expected to increase in these days due to the massacre of some people and threats from armed terrorist groups", says to Fides Fr. Mauro Armanino, missionary of the Society of African Missions (SMA). "After the attacks, on the day of the conclusion of the Ramadan feast, in the village of Fantio (see Fides, 14/5/2021), the fear of other attacks against the Christian community, has led people to flee from the villages and take refuge in the capital Niamey", says Fr. Armanino.
According to the missionary, this violence responds to a precise strategy that harms not only Christians, but all the populations in the areas threatened by jihadists. "Christians are not the only ones fleeing the area, others are also seriously threatened by the violence of armed groups", he explains. "The policy of creating a 'scorched earth' environment, after collecting taxes, stealing livestock and sacrificing various traditional leaders on suspicion of connivance with state authorities, seems to respond well to the project of these groups, affiliated with the Islamic State or Al Qaeda. Thousands of people have sought refuge in Tillabery, located about a hundred kilometers from Niamey". "The peculiarity of the composition of the group of Catholics in Dolbel is that it is the first Catholic community born in the country. In fact, the first to be baptized, Antoine Abdouramane, was a French army soldier who, after his leave, reached the Catholic mission of Niamey to invite the missionaries to open a mission in his hometown. His tomb is located in Dolbel and is a 'pilgrimage' destination for Christians who find in Antoine an example of courage and dedication for the Catholic Church", underlines Fr. Armanino. "The fact that the small Catholic community, made up of members of the Songhay group, has chosen to leave for safety reasons, is a sign that makes the entire diocesan and civil community reflect", said the missionary. "Although for some time the parish in question did not have a resident priest (wounded by gunshot while he was in the presbytery), the life of the community continued thanks to the laity present in the parish territory. Now, for the reasons mentioned, committed laity and families have also been forced to flee". "A blow to the heart of the fragile Church of the Archdiocese of Niamey. The Gourmanché area, with a good number of Catholics, where Father Pierluigi Maccalli was kidnapped and then released, and the Songhay area are both in a time of persecution. Not far from the capital Niamey", concludes Fr. Armanino. (M.A.) (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 18/5/2021)