This report is contributed by Antonia von Alten of Aid to the Church in Need.
* * *
Last July, Boko Haram suicide attacks killed more than 30 people and injured hundreds in the town of Maroua, Cameroon. In the wake of that violence, the open-air celebrations of Mass in the Diocese of Maroua-Mokolo are surrounded by a human chain protecting congregations as large as 3,000.
Despite the fear of terrorism, Bishop Bruno Ateba of Maroua-Mokolo told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the people have retained their sense of joy: “We like to sing and dance during Holy Mass, for the Lord is our refuge,” the prelate said, adding: “We feel as though it is Good Friday. Yet we are not giving up hope.”
Boko Haram is stalking Cameroon, especially in the northern region close to Nigeria. On Sept. 3, 2015, two women blew themselves up in a crowded market place, causing a bloodbath. Sandwiched between Nigeria and the Central African Republic – two of the major crisis regions in central and western Africa – Cameroon has experienced an onslaught of violence from Boko Haram.
Bishop Ateba reported that there are more than a 100,000 people in the area who have been driven from their homes. Half of them—mostly refugees from Nigeria—are stranded in a camp some 25 miles from Maroua. Some 50,000 Cameroonians have been driven from their home; most have sought refuge with relatives or found shelter in public building.
The bishop has withdrawn foreign missionaries from the frontier region. “Life is too dangerous there for people with white skin,” he said, adding that tourism, an important source of income for the region, has also taken a hit. “We‘ve been brought to a standstill,” he said, calling especially on the West to “help us to achieve peace. Without peace we can do nothing. The international community has all the resources to put an end to the terrorism of Boko Haram.”
To ultimately stop Boko Haram, said the bishop, dialogue between Christians and Muslims is essential. The Catholic Church has a good reputation in Cameroon, where 70% of its population of 20 million people are Christians; Muslims account for about a fifth of the population. The bishop said that Muslims make regular use of Catholic health centers and also send their children to Catholic schools.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)