Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
As days pass, there are fears that Father Rodrigue Sanon may have been spirited away into the Sahel by one of the various armed gangs operating in region. The area has been plagued by a five-year-old jihadist offensive.
Attacks and abductions in the Sahel region
“Father Rodrigue Sanon, the parish priest of Notre Dame de Soubaganyedougou, was reported missing on 19 January,” Bishop Lucas Kalfa Sanou of the Diocese of Banfora said in a statement Wednesday. According to an AFP report in French, Fr Rodrigue “left Soubaganyedougou for a meeting in Banfora but never arrived,” the Bishop said.
He added, “I invite all the faithful to pray so that Father Rodrigue may be found safe and sound as soon as possible.” Bishop Sanou has also appealed to anyone with information about the missing priest to come forward. AFP further says local security authorities were immediately informed and were searching for Fr Rodrigue.
Some residents of Banfora spotted the missing parish priest’s car parked by the main road. It then occurred to them that the priest had been abducted.
Burkina Faso has witnessed a spate of mostly Jihadist related kidnappings and deadly attacks on villages and places of worship. The armed violence has resulted in the deaths of 1100 persons while more than one million people are now internally displaced since the crisis began.
Years of peaceful co-existence
The religiously targeted violence has shaken ages-old peaceful co-existence in the country. Fr. Joël Yougbaré, parish priest of Djibo in the Diocese of Dori, northeastern Burkina Faso, has been missing since March 2019.
For years members of the various Christian churches, traditional religions and Muslims have lived in relative harmony. The armed attacks are undoubtedly meant to destabilise and create conflict among the people of the different faiths. There are also criminal groups kidnapping on behalf of terrorist gangs in return for money.
On 12 May 2019 at about 9 a.m., Fr. Simeon Yampa, 34 years old, was celebrating Mass at a Catholic Church in Dablo when about 30 assailants arrived on motorcycles. They started firing at the congregation gathered for the Eucharist and continued shooting even as parishioners fled. Six persons, including the priest, were killed. The attackers then set fire to the church, several nearby shops, a cafe and ransacked the local health centre.
Following the attacks on the community of Dablo, Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Koupela, Séraphin François Rouamba called for forgiveness, reconciliation and continued peaceful co-existence even in the face of such an outrage.
The Archbishop was quoted by local media saying, “We have been working together for years and years. Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, those of traditional religions, we have always all walked hand in hand. Therefore, we must not allow such tragic acts to separate us,” Archbishop Rouamba said at the time.
It is not only Catholics who are on the receiving end in Burkina Faso. Protestants and Muslims have also been targeted and killed.
August 2020: The killing of the Grand Imam of Djibo
Last year, in August, Souaibou Cissé, the great imam of Djibo town and president of the Muslim community of the Soum province in the Sahel region was found dead three days after being abducted from a public bus which was intercepted by unidentified armed men.
Considered a moderate religious leader, the 73-year-old Cissé was returning from the capital Ouagadougou, along the Namsiguia-Djibo axis. He was a well known and loved figure. His work in trying to bring together Christians and Muslims in the country endeared him to the people. There had been repeated threats against his life, but he had refused to leave the city.