According to the top Catholic in Somalia, a war-torn nation that’s one of the most dangerous places on the planet to be a Christian, “Even if work has to be done silently, it is better to be here than not be here.”
Bishop Giorgio Bertin, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of
Mogadishu, who has been in the region for almost 40 years, was hinting
at the grave risks Christians face in the Horn of Africa.
There is only a single church in Somalia: St. Anthony of Padua in
Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, a semi-autonomous region. Saying
Mass has been and continues to be “very dangerous,” the bishop told the
international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Just last January, after the church had been boarded up for some 20
years, the bishop was able to re-consecrate the church, which now also
serves as a base for humanitarian activities sponsored by Caritas.
“Not many people come to Mass - 10 at most - but nonetheless, it is
important,” the bishop said. The church is a silent witness in a country
where “there are more and more mosques,” thanks to financial aid from
Saudi Arabia, he added.
For Catholics, however, “there is no possible way of having a presence in Mogadishu, since it is very dangerous.”
“There are a few Catholics, but if they engage in any activities, for
example with Caritas, they will be risking their lives. We can only be
present there through the intermediary of other Somali associations,”
It was 27 years ago, after the assassination of Bishop Salvatore
Colombo, that the Holy See asked Bertin to become apostolic
administrator of Mogadishu, after rebels had destroyed almost the whole
of the Somali capital and the Church’s entire infrastructure.
“They deliberately targeted us, though not only us; in fact they
destroyed everything, including embassies, and all public institutions,”
the bishop recalled.
To this day, Somalia has remained a completely dysfunctional state,
with a host of unrecognized self-proclaimed independent regions - such
as Somaliland - and the constant threat of the jihadist militia of
Fortunately, in neighboring Djibouti, the former French colony where Bertin resides, the Church has freedom.
“We are left in peace there; there is no danger and the Church is
respected,” he said. The local Church is comprised of 5,000 Catholics,
the majority of them expatriate, with only very few native faithful.
Providing education and humanitarian work are the primary tasks of
the Church, which, the bishop stresses, is not out to make converts. The
Catholic schools almost exclusively serve Muslim students, however.
Still, the prelate said, “we are sowing the seed of the Gospel among
There are 30 missionaries in the country, serving two
churches and four mission stations.
The bishop stressed that “a priest or a religious sister is not there
for the Catholics only; they are there as a presence in society, in
contact with the people and open to them. We cannot remain closed up
within our structures.”