Details of a terrible massacre in the Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire) is slowly trickling out. The Salesian parish of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus in
Duékoué was the center because it had become a refuge for thousands of refugees fleeing the looting of an entire district.
On March 29, people were forced out of their homes in Carrefour” district. Their homes were then looted and burned down by supporters of Ouattara, who is a struggle for the Presidency of the Ivory Coast. Many people reported being told by looters to take refuge in the parish where the courtyard was quickly filled and which had had no water or electricity for 3 days. 30,000 eventually took refuge in the sprawling parish. (Via the Salesian information service.
Caritas reports that 1,000 were killed, Red Cross workers reported seeing at least 800 bodies in the neighborhood. Reports vary as to whether or not the killings took place within the parish or were primarily of men who weren't able to reach the parish in time.
Per the Catholic News Service, Bishop Gaspard Beby Gneba of Man, whose diocese includes Duekoue, told the Vatican's missionary news agency Fides April 2 that civilian and church-owned facilities in his diocese such as churches, schools and health clinics have been destroyed and looted.
Bishop Gneba said 20,000 people had taken refuge at the Catholic mission in Duekoue, and another 2,000 refugees were in the two parishes of Guiglo. Among them were many Liberians who had been in Ivory Coast since the end of civil war in Liberia in 2003.
Archbishop Jean-Pierre Kutwa of Abidjan told Fides April 4 that the situation there was quiet yet extremely tense -- like the calm before a storm.
He said people have locked themselves in their homes, and many were without water, electricity and food.
"We are awaiting the finale to the battle. It's an indescribable tragedy," the archbishop said.
And now a bit of background to the story:
West Africa has seen massive Christian growth over the past century. Only 1.7% of West Africans were Christian in 1910. By 2010, Christians made up nearly 36% of the population while Muslims are 48.6%.
The growth of Christianity in the Ivory Coast was typical of the region. In 1910, there were only 780 known Christians in the Ivory Coast. Today there are over 7 million Christians and 35% of the nation is Christian. (per the Global Atlas of Christianity)
There are an estimated 2.8 million baptised Catholics in Côte d'Ivoire, 17% of the population, in 14 diocese. There are 800 priests and 1,500 men and women in religious orders.
Roman Catholicism made a brief appearance in the Ivory Coast in the mid-seventeenth century and reappeared two centuries later when French missionaries began to work among the Agni. The first African Roman Catholic mission in the country was established in 1895, and the first African priest was ordained in 1934. In the 1980s, the Roman Catholic Church operated seminaries and schools throughout the country.
The basilica in Yamoussoukro is one of the five tallest churches in the world. Unfortunately, the basilica, which is bigger than St. Peter's and has 7,000 air conditioned seats and standing room for 11,000, is widely regarded as a 300 million dollar monument to corruption and ego. The then president of Ivory Coast, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, wanted to venerate himself through the construction of the largest church in the world at his birthplace, Yammousoukro. The president was depicted in a stained glass offering a gift to Jesus with his apostles. The local bishop and the Catholic community in this poor capital city of 120,000 spend their time at the near-by Cathedral of St. Augustine.