Burkina Faso: On a mission in “the land of upright people”

The relationship built with Focolare members and communities worldwide is one of the most beautiful experiences for us who work at focolare.org. We take the opportunity of this Christmas Season to thank all those who send us news, and thus allow the life of the charism of unity to inspire many.

An email we received from Fr. Domenico De Martino, a 36 year old priest from Naples, who is a missionary in Burkina Faso, has really been a great gift. It has brought us closer to people who live in a part of the world where peace, dignity and religious freedom are seriously threatened and where the use of telecommunications is extremely low.

Violence by extremist groups, that hit Burkina Faso during the past five years, caused hundreds of deaths, a wave of kidnappings and the closure of many schools and churches. It has also led to a massive and continuous displacement of people who moved from the affected regions to the capital and other large urban centres. According to the latest information by the UN, 486,360 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were registered at the beginning of October, more than twice the number displaced in July. Numbers continue to grow steadily, and there are even reports of one million IDPs.

Fr. Domenico, a member of the Missionary Community of Villaregia , came to know the Focolare Movement at the age of 12, when he came across the Word of Life, a monthly commentary on the Scriptures in the spirit of the charism of unity. Chiara Lubich started this commentary more than 40 years ago, and Domenico came to know about it during his visits to the missionaries. He related: “When I was 17 years old, I wrote to Chiara Lubich and asked her for a Word from the Gospel that could be a light to guide me in my life. I also wanted to share with her all about my vocation. I still treasure her answer to my letter; I keep it in my Bible and every now and then I read it again. She indicated words from St John’s Gospel: ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him’ (Jn 14:23). I always try to go deeper into these very stong and demanding words, to find the meaning of my life. I was ordained priest in 2012 after a year’s experience in

Lima, Peru”.
For the last two years, Fr. Domenico has been doing missioniary work in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. He is involved in a number of projects that aim at integral human promotion. He told us: “Burkina Faso literally means ‘the land of upright people’; family and a sense of community are among the most treasured values of the Burkinabé people. Most of the 160 students, who attend the school we have started to promote literacy, are girls and young mothers who had no opportunity to study before. We have also set up a project to help women start small businesses to make ends meet. Many present their projects to ask for our support but it is not always easy to choose. The Gospel and the desire to be part of this people guide us in our choices.

In recent months, schools in the capital city have started to function again, but unfortunately, it is not the same for schools in other parts of the country. Terrorist groups burnt many schools in the North, North-East and North-West of the country, and at the end of the last scholastic year several teachers were killed. “The tactics used by the bandits or terrorists are always the same; they arrive in the villages, take everything – cattle and crops – empty the small shops, and then they look for teachers and tell them that if they don’t leave, they will be the next victims unless they teach Arabic or what they call ‘the true religion’. I had the opportunity to talk to some teachers, who despite this desperate situation still have to report to work because the state obliges them to do so, but there is great fear. Our area is quiet, but we try to be close to our people and share in their fears and anxieties.

Last September, 40 soldiers lost their lives during an attack on a military base. Among them, there were 3 of our young parishioners. We were particularly close to one of them, who was the eldest son of a family we know quite well. When we went to visit this family to offer our condolences, we met the grief-stricken widow and her two sons, and it was extremely difficult to understand why so much hatred and horror. Jean, the soldier’s father, who always tells me: ‘You priests are God’s sign for us; we can ask you everything because you give us God’s word, his comfort and his will’, was also there. This time, I could only shake his weak hand without uttering a word, and make him feel that God is near”.

In this serious situation of great instability, one perceives a sign of hope in the communion that continues to grow among different Christian churches and people of other religions, especially Muslims. They get together and unite in prayers for peace. Fr. Domenico spoke about another sign of peace when he related about a project to help with the payment of school fees. To date, 96 children have benefited from it. “We were shocked when we found out that many children do not have a birth certificate; it seems as if they do not exist at all. We encounter various complex situations that require our attention and assistence. It is amazing to discover that placing God at the centre of our activities leads us to deeper understanding and better organization, because we look at the person as a whole. We are trying to get organized about birth certificates, and this will allow us to give back dignity to the children of our neighbourhoods”.

It was evident that Fr. Domenico had so many other things to relate. His words full of love for the Burkinabé people brought us closer to this country. He concluded: “Communion helps us to be Church in the real sense of the word; we actually know what is happening around us and we become fully committed to help all God’s children who suffer and are in need”.

Stefania Tanesini

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