Missionary works amidst turbulent situation in Kantchari, Burkina Faso

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The missionary activities that have been carried out till today at Kantchari, a town in Burkina Faso, located in the east of the country, it borders Niger.

We both, Fathers Maxime and Clément, arrived in Kantchari on Thursday, October 5, 2023, after two weeks of waiting in Fada for the flight. When we arrived, we found a town almost empty of its population. The population was essentially made up of internally displaced persons and Indigenous people who were unable to leave. There was no food or medicine. The few products that some fraudsters managed to bring into the city were extremely expensive. For example, a small piece of CITEC soap, which costs 400 fcfa, is sold at 1500 fcfa and salt from 25 fcfa to 2500 fcfa. People had no food, and the few people who managed to have food did so without salt, oil, and many other things. And as if all this were not enough, we were subjected to the sinister music of cannon fire in daily newspapers. Those who dared to venture outside the city were killed.

However, we found parishioners and a population who were really waiting for us. The return of the fathers was a great sign of hope. The parishioners organized the reception of the priest on Sunday, October 8, 2023. It was heavy weapons fire that woke up the entire population that day. Despite the cannon fire, the faithful came for mass and this gave us the courage to celebrate this mass. They demonstrated great faith, joy, resilience, and courage. On Sundays, the church is overflowing with people, and during the week, it is almost full. This situation caused us a problem in terms of communion because we could not get enough supplies of hosts, and even if we could, there was no money because it is true that the church is overflowing with people, but the people are in extreme poverty so that the collections cannot provide the essentials.

To the rhythm of cannon fire and in the midst of a population that had no food and could not take care of itself, we continued to announce Christ as best we could until the dark day of Saturday, November 11, when Kantchari was attacked again by terrorists. The first cannon shots were heard at 5:24 a.m. However, we insisted on celebrating mass. Anyway, the faithful had come for the celebration. It was precisely at the time of the consecration that the situation broke out. By the time the military intervened, the terrorists had already managed to kill a certain number of civilians, take away livestock, burn granaries and everything else. While the president of the celebration hurried to finish the mass and dismiss the assembly as quickly as possible, we realized that the population was converging precisely at the parish to seek refuge. With the intervention of the army, at 6:30 a.m., the attack was over, leaving desolation in the hearts and corpses in the arms of certain families. What to say to parishioners at Sunday Mass?

The situation did not change much until mid-December, when the gunshots began to decrease. This did not last because, in the meantime, other attacks were felt imminent. By dint of prayers, while having their eyes turned towards the soldiers and the VDP (Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland), the entire population encouraged each other. The cannon fire decreased around December, so Christmas was celebrated with fewer cannon shots. It goes without saying that the population was hoping for a convoy to at least be able to eat at Christmas, but alas, at Christmas no convoy arrived in Kantchari. The much-hoped-for convoy ended up arriving on the night of January 1st at the cost of numerous sacrifices, including enormous losses of human lives because it suffered several attacks, the last of which was about ten kilometres at the entrance to Kantchari. With the population, we went out to welcome the convoy, and the next day, we buried the victims of the convoy. A bitter food to swallow! At the parish, in the days that followed, we organized a requiem mass for all the victims of the convoy. Several trucks were also burned along the way.

The convoy appeased the hunger of the population, although life remained difficult because the majority did not have the means to buy the food and medicine transported.

In the parish, most of the resources go to food, which is extremely expensive, and to help those in need with the purchase of food and medicine.

If the crackling of weapons had diminished since December, it unfortunately resumed at the end of March, albeit to a lesser extent. On two occasions, the population even went out to ask for food. The WFP is really saving us from hunger right now by airlifting food. It’s not enough, but it helps a lot.

Despite all this, everyone remains hopeful for a better tomorrow, especially since a lot of work is being done on the security front. The crackling of weapons has diminished, and that is already a good sign.

At the parish, we continue to celebrate, pray, sing, and dance. Those who have already passed through Kantchari know that it is a people who love to sing and dance, “even to the kyrie”. But it is not always easy to preach when you are faced with people who have sometimes gone days without eating.

Regardless, we hope for a better tomorrow in the months to come, and that is what keeps us going with the parishioners and even the entire population.

Fr. Clément KOUROSSANGAMA, CSsR.
Parish priest of Kantchari