Burkina Faso: Christian Leaders Mount Pressure for More Gov’t Protection as Body of Missing Priest Found in Forest

The lifeless body of Reverend Father Rodrigue Sanon of the Banfora Diocese in the South West of Burkina Faso has been found. The dead Priest was found Thursday, January 21 in the Toumoussessi forest.

In a release issued January 22, the Bishop of Banfora, Mgr. Lucas Kalfa Sanou, said: “It is with deep sorrow that I bring to everyone's knowledge that the lifeless body of Fr. Rodrigue Sanon was found on 21 January in the forest of Toumousseni about twenty kilometres from Banfora.”

The death was further confirmed by Roger Seogo, the Communication Officer for the Banfora Diocese. He said, “We are waiting for the scientific police to do its job before transferring the corpse to the mortuary of the Banfora hospital.”

Reverend Father Rodrigue Sanon of the Banfora Diocese  (C) Agnus-Dei Media

The Bishop has urged the faithful “to pray intensely for his soul and remain confident in the merciful love of the Lord.”

The circumstances of the death aren’t yet known, but security sources suggest that it could be the work of terrorists who might have kidnapped the Priest, and then killed him and dumped his body in the forest.

While the North and East of Burkina Faso have been flashpoints for terrorist activities for over five years now, the South had only witnessed sporadic terrorist incursions, probably from neighbouring Mali. But it’s the first time a priest has been killed in such circumstances in the region.

Terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso have left at least 1,100 people dead and over a million forced from their homes since 2015, according to the United Nations.

The past two years have been particularly hard for Christians in the country as they are increasingly being targeted by terrorists intent on establishing a caliphate across the Sahel.

On Sunday, February 17, 2020, gunmen killed at least 24 people, including a pastor, in an attack on a church during Sunday Mass in northwestern Burkina Faso, according to media reports.

Armed assailants “attacked the peaceful residents of this area after identifying them and separating them from nonresidents,” said a government statement then.

In March 2019, Reverend Father Joël Yougbaré, Parish Priest of Djibo was kidnapped along the Botogui-Djibo road in the North-East of the country. To date, he has not been found.

On May 12 the same year, Father Siméon Yampa -a priest in Kaya Diocese and five Christians were killed in a Dablo Church to the north of the country. And the attack came barely two weeks after gunmen struck at a Protestant Church in Silgadji still in the north, killing six Christians. And Spanish Missionary, Father César Fernandez was killed in the Center of Burkina Faso.

The targeted attacks on Christians have got Christian charities that fight against the persecution of Christians worried.

Edward F. Clancy, Director of outreach for the pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need has called on the Burkina Faso government to do more to protect Christians.

“Not only do the governments of nations like Burkina Faso need to be more protective of Christians and other minorities, but the international community needs to take decisive measures to end international terrorist financing and cross-border transfers of weapons and militants,” Clancy said.

Burkina Faso, a Muslim-majority country, however, has a significant Christian following, making up around 10 to 20 per cent of the population. Most of the Christians are Catholics.

The country enjoyed relatively good inter-religious relations until 2015 when jihadists who were already active in neighbouring Mali started crossing the border into the country.

The jihadist groups now active in the country include the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslim in, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and the home-grown Ansaroul Islam.

While these groups have attacked state symbols, Christians and Christian Churches have been prime targets.

Clancy said that the modus operandi of the terrorists is to create an atmosphere of fear and to undermine any civil authority that might exist.

“Interreligious tensions are exacerbated to the point of violence. This will help undo the cultural and social fabric of societies and people will be forced to seek extreme measures in order to survive. Because Christians are in the minority, they are the easy and prime target as jihadists want to rid the world of all faiths except their own particular distortion of religion,” he said.

Bishop Justin Kientega of Ouahigouya (C) The Irish Catholic

With Christians coming increasingly under attack, a Catholic Bishop in Burkina Faso told ACN in December 2020 that it was critical that the West stop selling arms that are used by terrorists to kill the people.

“The Western powers should stop those who are committing these crimes, instead of selling them the weapons that they are using to kill the Christians,” said Bishop Justin Kientega of Ouahigouya.

He accused Western powers of having an interest in “seeing the violence continue, and their profits are more important than our lives.”