Friday, July 02, 2004

Somali Church Leader Concerned About Situation of Christians


[ENI] Leaders of Somalia's small Christian community attending talks in Nairobi have expressed concern about the plight of Christians in their troubled country.

"We live in constant fear. We have very little rights, since people believe that there are no Christians in Somalia," said Peter Ahmed Abdi, leader of the Mogadishu Pentecostal Church, who is also chairman of the tiny Somali Christian community.

Leaders and warlords of more than 20 fighting factions, as well as traditional and religious leaders such as Abdi, have gathered in the Kenyan capital for the Somali National Reconciliation Conference sponsored by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, which comprises countries in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. They are trying to reach agreement on an interim government for Somalia.

Somalia slid into anarchy without a stable government after the overthrow of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. The breakaway, self-proclaimed independent Republic of Somaliland in the northern part of the country is not recognised by any government.

Somali Christians were demanding the right to worship and assemble, to move freely and to have political representation, said Abdi, who was accompanied in the talks by two Roman Catholics. He said he had been shouted down at the conference by Muslim delegates, who had insisted Somalia had no Christians.

Somalia's few Christians are being oppressed and living in fear of being killed, Abdi said. "We do not walk openly proclaiming our faith because we can be assassinated anytime. We pray on Fridays in Somalia just like [Muslims], since they will not allow us to attend church on Sunday." Church structures erected in colonial times and shortly after the country's independence have collapsed.

Somalia is virtually 100 per cent Muslim, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia, with only about 200 Somali Catholics and small groups of Protestants associated with Mennonite missionaries and the Sudan Interior Mission. "We are calling on Christians from all over the world to help [rebuild] our churches," said John Muktar, a Somali Roman Catholic.

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