(Vatican Radio) Christian communities in Mali are increasingly becoming targets of extremists and Jihadists says Fr. Edmond Dembelé, Secretary General of the Bishops' Conference of Mali. This is according to the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
According to the Malian Secretary-General, in Mopti Diocese, in the central-north of the country, three Catholic Churches were visited and threatened by Jihadists who prevented the faithful from gathering to pray. The faithful were given orders not to ring Church bells. The extremists also destroyed Church property and sacred objects.
L’Osservatore Romano quotes Agenzia Fides as saying, in the village of Dobara, some armed men forced open the door of the Church took crucifixes, sacred images and statue of the Virgin Mary and burned them in the churchyard. Earlier in the village of Bodwal, some Christians were forced out from the place of worship by armed men who threatened them, saying they would kill them if they ever prayed again in that Church.
“What we are concerned about is that these groups have so far not targeted Christians specifically. The situation has changed in the last few months, and for this reason, we have launched the alarm," Fr. Dembelé.
The menacing presence of Jihadist groups is growing in southern Mali, previously spared much of the violence prevalent in the north. The abduction of Sr. Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti, of Colombian origin, of the congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, seems to have been a turning point.
Sister Cecilia was abducted in Karangasso, Koutiala. Karangasso is part of an area that was previously of no interest to the Jihadists. About the fate of Sister Cecilia, Fr. Dembélé says, "Unfortunately we have no news, and we have no contact with her kidnappers."
A 2015 Mali peace accord signed by separatists and all parties to the armed crisis which started in 2012 is failing to take hold. The country has been in a crisis ever since rebels declared the independence of northern Mali (Azawad). According to the International Crisis Group, Mali’s instability is now affecting countries of the Sahel. It is spilling over into Burkina Faso and spreading to Niger and even to Senegal.
(Vatican Radio, English Africa Service)