Guinea Bissau: Church of Santa Isabel de Gabú vandalised.
Casimiro Jorge Cajucam –Guiné-Bissau.
The vandals broke the Church's altar, destroyed holy images and went away with a symbol of World Youth Day. Parish priest, Father Odilon Judicael Leno, explained how he arrived at the Church and found it in complete disarray.
"I arrived at the Church around 11.30 in the morning, and I was stunned by what I saw. They broke the image of Our Lady and threw the Pilgrim Cross on the floor. Several holy objects in the Church were desecrated, and some are missing," said the priest.
Religious extremism on the rise
The desecration of the Church in Gabú comes just a month after a US report on religious freedom in the world warned of the rise of religious extremism in Guinea Bissau.
In his reaction to the attack on the Catholic Church in eastern Guinea Bissau, Bafatá Diocese Administrator Father Lucio Brentagani, currently in Italy, said that the vandalism was most unfortunate. He regretted the gesture of contempt for the Catholic Church's place of worship but also towards its faith.
Solidarity messages from other religions
"There may be someone who does not agree with our faith or with something in our way of life. That should not lead to this. Nevertheless, we will steadfastly continue to celebrate our faith, trusting in God. We respect and celebrate our brothers and sisters of other religions. Our wish is for all the people of Guinea Bissau to continue living in harmony, loving one another," said Father Lucio.
The Diocesan Administrator also revealed that the Church in Guinea Bissau had received messages of solidarity and support from ordinary people and representatives of different religions, including government officials. Many are saddened by the act.
"Solidarity messages came from people who recognise religion as one of the fundamental values for all human beings. As such, we are all called to respectfully acknowledge our differences in religious beliefs. National dialogue is the best way to iron out any significant differences." Added Fr Lucio, "Nothing and no one will ever separate us from our faith."
Minister of Territorial Administration, Fernando Gomes, visited the Church of Gabú and promised a robust investigation to bring the culprits to book.
However, local observers criticised the country's President, Umaro El Mokhtar Sissoco Embalo, for downplaying the vandalism at the Santa Isabel de Gabú Church. The President was quoted as saying there was nothing unusual about what had happened and police would deal with the matter.
"How often have we seen fans and air conditioners stolen from Mosques? Once I went to pray in the Cupelum Mosque in Bissau. That day unidentified people stole all the shoes of Muslim worshippers who were inside the mosque praying. Even in the Vatican and Mecca, theft happens," said President Embalo.