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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

As elections approach in Somalia, bishop sees signs of hope

As presidential elections approach in Somalia, the bishop who serves as apostolic administrator sees signs of hope, but he says changes are needed.

Since 1991, the presence of the Catholic Church in Somalia, already small, largely disappeared across the country as parts of Somalia came under the control of a more fundamentalist Islamic authority while other large sections of the country were taken over by al-Shabab, an Islamist militant group.

Bishop Giorgio Bertin, the apostolic administrator of Mogadishu and president of Caritas Somalia, has worked largely below the radar from outside of the country, first in Nairobi and later from Djibouti, where the diocesan offices were eventually relocated.

Despite the years of turmoil and upheaval, he has always remained hopeful. He said one symbol of that hope is the recent rebuilding and re-consecration of the parish church in Hargeisa, Somalia’s second-largest city. The project was supported by the US bishops’ Catholic Relief Services.

What is and is not surprising, depending on how one looks at it, is that the church serves between the 10-15 faithful.

“There might be one or two more,” Bishop Bertin said, “but they might be afraid to come to the church.”

“The threat of Islamic extremism is of course always there, but the situation is now relatively safe,” he said.

Picture: Men are seen working on a church in 2016 in Hargeisa, Somalia. The church has been rebuilt and serves a Catholic community of 10-15 people. (CNS photo/courtesy Father Tom Donovan).