Burkina Faso: Missing priest found dead in jihadist hotspot

A church in Burkina Faso.
A church in Burkina Faso. | Flickr/Khym54

The body of a priest who went missing in Burkina Faso was found dead in the western African country’s southwest forest, an area riddled with jihadist presence and activity.

Two days after Father Rodrigue Sanon disappeared in Burkina Faso’s southwestern region, his body was discovered in a nearby forest, the bishop of the Diocese of Banfora announced in a statement shared by Vatican News.

“It is with deep sorrow that I bring to everyone’s attention that the lifeless body of Fr. Rodrigue Sanon was found on Jan. 21, 2021, in the protected forest of Toumousseni, about 20 kilometers from Banfora,” Bishop Lucas Kalfa Sanou said.

According to Catholic News Agency, Sanon, a priest from Notre Dame de Soubaganyedougou, disappeared Tuesday on his way to Banfora to meet the bishop. The priest never arrived, and his car was found abandoned.

Despite the circumstances surrounding the priest's murder, the bishop urged believers “to stay the course and remain confident in the merciful love of God.”

“By the Mercy of God, may the soul of His servant Rodrigue Sanon rest in peace!” the bishop said.

While the details surrounding the bishop’s murder and the assailants' identities remain unknown, for the last five years, Burkina Faso has been marked by religious violence at the hands of Islamist militant groups. These jihadist extremists include the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, and Ansarul Islam.

The violence has left over 1 million people displaced and nearly 1,100 dead since 2015, according to a 2019 report from the U.S. State Department.

Burkina Faso is ranked No. 32 on persecution watchdog Open Doors USA’s World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution. 

Open Doors estimates there are over 1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Burkina Faso, and many are Christians, as extremist attacks have driven believers from their homes and villages, with many being forced into refugee camps.

In June 2020, at least 58 people, including children, were killed in northern Burkina Faso in three separate attacks by armed Islamic militants who were targeting Christians.

In December 2019, at least 14 people were killed when gunmen stormed a Protestant church service in the town of Hantoukoura near the border with Niger. In April, gunmen killed a Protestant pastor and five other Christians who were leaving a worship service in Silgadji.

Last year, bishops in Burkina Faso issued a statement calling the increase in religious violence “more worrying than ever” and urged authorities to extend more support to marginalized communities.

“The role of the Defense and Security Forces remains paramount,” said the bishops, adding that security forces in the country “must produce and guarantee a secure environment conducive to the conduct of the electoral process with the full participation of all citizens.”

“For the pastors in this part of Burkina Faso as elsewhere in the regions ... it is a great suffering to no longer be able to reach the faithful in some places, or to see them fleeing from terrorist attacks without any guarantee of security,” they said.

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