West & Central Africa

Christians celebrate Christmas for the first time in Mali

Church bells rang for the first time in four years at the Philippe Amore Catholic Church in Goa, Mali since it was destroyed by Al Qaeda Jihadists in 2014. Over 100 people met to celebrate Christmas and for the first time in four years Christmas lights were lit and Christmas carols echoed in the neighborhood.

Mali is a predominantly Muslim country west of the Sahara but the Fresh colonial catholic rulers converted some Malians to Christianity. However Gao has had radical extremist Islamic rulers who enforced their strict interpretation of Islam upon the local community. The relationship between Christians and Muslims deteriorated in 2012 after tolerance had long reigned between Muslims and Christians. Christians were attacked and had to flee until the French government intervened in 2013.

On Saturday, Christmas Eve, surrounded by a tight security, “a small choir of 10 people sang hymns in front of a tree lit up with colourful lights that was set next to a small nativity scene. After the two-hour service, church members met in a dining area on site to share sandwiches and salad.” According to news reports.

“The congregants have been fearful, they don’t want to come to the church yet so we must raise awareness,” said Philippe Omore, President of the Christian community in Gao.

“Christmas brings us joy in spiteMali where we need peace and where it has been difficult to reconcile and unite us.”

Philippe Omore added, “Before the crisis, we could go walk on the sand dunes outside of Gao but today because of the security situation that is no longer possible. We miss it, and we want to live as we did in the past — free and without fear for our safety.”

In Mali, the minority Christians live with the awareness that the situation can change at anytime. Only 24 hours earlier on Christmas Eve, a Swiss aid worker Sophie Petronin was kidnapped. The Aid worker runs a non-governmental organization that helps children suffering from malnutrition, was kidnapped.