Tents are seen at a IDP camp in Baidoa, as many Somalians face a severe drought Tents are seen at a IDP camp in Baidoa, as many Somalians face a severe drought  (AFP or licensors)

Bishop Bertin optimistic about future relations with new Somali Government

The Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu, Somalia, Bishop Giorgio Bertin, expresses his hopes that good relations with the new government will open opportunities for Christians to worship more freely.

By Vatican News staff reporter

The Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu says the latest political developments in Somalia leave space for hope that the crisis-torn African nation can finally find peace and stability, and may yield to more religious freedom for the Church in the country.

Political process is beginning to work in Somalia 

Bishop Giorgio Bertin,OFM, told Fides News agency that the greenlight given on August 6 by the Lower House (House of People) of the Somali Federal Parliament to the Cabinet team presented by the new Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre, is a good sign that could indicate that “the political process is beginning to work”, after over a year of deadlock and turmoil that followed the end of term of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo, in February 2021.

“It is a great success, especially considering how divided Somalia was until a few months ago,” the Italian-born bishop said. 

Barre was appointed to succed former PM Mohamed Hussein Roble on 15 June by the new Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, one month after his election on May 15. The presidential elections had been postponed several times due to a political rift between Roble and Somalia's outgoing President, which plunged the Horn of Africa country into a new political crisis.

Bishop Giorgio Bertin, Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu
Bishop Giorgio Bertin, Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu

Meetings with Somali officials

Soon after the House of People’s greenlight, Bishop Bertin and other Catholic Church leaders met with top Somali officials to establish working relationships with new government.

Bishop Bertin told Fides that the delegation, joined by Archbishop Antoine Camilleri, Apostolic Nuncio to Ethiopia and Apostolic Delegate for Somalia, was able to meet, amongst others, the new House Speaker, Adan Madobe, with whom the Church leaders discussed various issues, including “confessional relations”.

“The main objective of the visit was to address the very serious problem of the drought, but it was an opportunity (for the Catholic Church) to reestablish ties with the Somali authorities,” said Bishop Bertin, who is also the Local Ordinary of Djibouti.

Hopes for more religious freedom for the Church

The bishop highlighted the importance of the meetings, noting that they were the first high-level encounters with Somali officials in 30 years.

He told Fides that both him and Archbishop Camilleri were “satisfied” with the results and that he hopes they will open the way to granting more freedom of worship to the Church.

"It would be a big step forward. In fact, this right is not guaranteed because, given the general insecurity of recent years, we cannot rebuild the cathedral or hold public worship,” the bishop said.

He added that “it is the desire of the Nuncio and the authorities to deepen relations for mutual recognition.” The Holy See and Somalia haven’t yet established diplomatic relations, and the position of Apostolic Delegate to Somalia is not a diplomatic one

Caution needed 

Bishop Bertin said that mutual recognition would not only be beneficial to the Church in the country, whose population is 99 percent Muslim, but also to the locals who would be more accessible for support by the international community.

Church close to Somali people as they face severe drought

The bishop however stressed the need to approach the issue of religion in Somalia with caution.

“Given the fragility of the government, it could be a risk for the executive to grant openings towards the Church that could be judged excessive, at least at this stage,” the Bishop said. “In the meantime, we will remain close to the Somali people. For this reason, we want to launch an aid campaign in collaboration with Caritas Somalia, Caritas Ireland and Caritas USA, to provide an immediate response to drought and famine,” he concluded.

19 August 2022, 17:02