Days after reports cited West African-based official of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) calling upon stakeholders in the African Sahel region to go beyond military intervention and address the root causes of the region’s conflict including “extreme poverty, high youth unemployment, a lack of education,” leaders of a religious congregation of nuns have shared about their initiative in providing a safe haven for victims of the conflict.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need International (ACN), the General Superior and the former General Superior of Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (SIC) have given an account of their humanitarian activities in the West African nation of Burkina Faso.
The General Superior of the congregation, Sr. Pauline and the former general superior Sr. Marie-Bernadette have been quoted as telling the pontifical charitable organization, ACN that members of their institute take in refugees on daily basis.
Most of the beneficiaries of this apostolate to refugees, the nuns said, are wives who have lost husbands during the crisis, especially because terrorists have usually targeted men. Other beneficiaries are children and the elderly.
Some of the needs the nuns provide to the refugees include “bread, water, a little soap, but also especially a sympathetic hearing, a gesture of gentleness, of being loved, even if only for a day, after what they have been through.”
According to the nuns, in the North of the country, they “care for somewhere between 30 and 60 refugees each day,” while in the capital city, Ouagadougou, they “have taken in over 600 people.”
The Sahel region, which cuts across Senegal, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Chad, Eritrea, Mali and Burkina Faso has been experiencing extensive violence caused by political crisis in the nations that seems to provide a fertile ground for extremist groups.
According to the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), the region is facing a surge in the violence that has targeted both civilians and the military with the number of reported casualties and deaths having increased significantly in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali in 2019 compared to previous years.
Christians have also been persecuted in the ongoing crisis, a reality that ACN President, Thomas Heine-Beldern 2019 described, in his 2019 report, as “one of the bloodiest for Christians in history.”
In the face of such persecutions, however, the nuns noted that Christians are not afraid to express their faith.
“Faced with these difficulties, the Christians are not deserting the churches; instead, on the contrary, they are praying still more!” the two nuns stated in their collective report and added, “We have noticed a real spiritual growth among the people.”
The nuns who also work in Mali emphasized that amid the challenges, they are not afraid to offer their services to the needy, “because we trust in God’s providence.”
“We know that anything could happen to us any day and that we have to be prepared for every possible situation,” they said and continued, “We are concerned for everyone, we want to be able to attend to the needs of every individual, and above all as head of the community we carry all these cares and concerns.”
“Our sisters in Mali were forced to leave for reasons of security, but now they tell me they are willing to return there. They feel they are ready to suffer along with the people, side by side with them,” the SIC leaders have been quoted as saying.
Remaining hopeful that the crisis will come to an end, the nuns said, “We are trusting in Divine Providence. We know that the Lord loves us and that he will help us to come through these sufferings. We retain our spirit of hope and refuse to fall into despair.”