"And I beheld, and heard the voice of one eagle flying through the midst of heaven,
saying with a loud voice: Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth....
[Apocalypse (Revelation) 8:13]

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


 "Religions (ISLAM), none of which teach evil....must unite people to help everyone improve and progress."

Stories of coexistence between faithful of the two religions. A top of the notch medical Centre and a people, wounded by the attacks, who want to remain united

“In Burkina Faso, there is great friendship between Christians and Muslims: they live together in harmony, relations are peaceful. Families are often made of people of both religions”. This is how Riccardo Zagaria, an Orionine priest, begins his story: 50 years old (21 of which he spent in Africa), after having directed hospitals in Togo and the Ivory Coast, today he is at the head of the Don Orione Medical Centre, a specialist medical Centre located on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, the capital. In this poor country of the Sahel, there are 16 million people, 40% of whom are Muslims, 30% Christians and the rest follow traditional religion.

The attacks
“On March 2, a terrorist attack - claimed by a group affiliated to Al Qaeda - hit the capital. It is the third after the two – extremely serious ones - that took place in 2016 and 2017: people harshly stigmatize the incidents, the priest says, “Unfortunately, for some years now, in some northern areas of the country - bordering Mali and Niger (two highly unstable countries) - there have been groups of Jihadists, Islamic extremists. The State is making a great effort to face them, with the support of the population, which wants to continue living together in peace, pleased with the existing friendship between Christians and Muslims. The Islamic faithful and imams, in condemning the attacks, have resolutely affirmed that the extremists do not profess true Islam, which is the religion of peace and tolerance”.

The Medical Center
Orthopedics and ophthalmology are the specializations of the Medical Centre which was founded 15 years ago by the Orione fathers to provide assistance to people affected by polio, has now become an irreplaceable point of reference for the high-quality service offered. There are currently 60 beds, an analysis lab, a pharmaceutical warehouse and an orthopedic workshop where orthopedic aids, prostheses and orthoses are made using local materials. On average, 300 people are assisted every day. Poliomyelitis is now rare as the state has been conducting a massive and widespread vaccination campaign over the last decade. So today, while in the department of ophthalmology numerous cataract operations are performed, in the department of orthopedics care, support and rehabilitation are offered to those who, for various reasons, have motor disabilities and difficulties, including many children affected by cerebral motor disabilities (arising usually after difficult childbirths, which are very frequent).

The coexistence between Christian and Muslim patients is exemplary, Father Riccardo recounts: “It is moving to see how they help and support each other. Suffering not only brings disheartenment and pain: it generates a benevolent look at the vulnerability of the other, it kindles strong complicity and deep friendships. This happens not only among patients, but also among all of us who look after them”.

For the good of the sick
In the Centre - next to which stands the Welcoming Village for the sick (and their families) - 26 people work, both Christian and Muslim, and their relationships are excellent: there is great team spirit, the priest stresses: “We work together thinking about the good of the sick, who must be welcomed, served, loved. The head of the orthopedic workshop, Bebane Yacouba, a fervent Muslim, is a dear friend: just as for me, serving the sick is serving God, doing good is a way of obeying Him”.

Getting life back on track
Bebane Yacouba is 37 years old, married and father of a child. In the studio he builds orthopedic braces, prostheses, shoes and orthopedic corsets: “I really like my job - he says - making it possible for a person who has suffered amputation and has come here discouraged and hopeless, to walk, is like giving them life again: it is an experience that gives them profound happiness”. And about living with the Orionine fathers and Christian colleagues, he said: “I am happy to work in this Centre: I feel peaceful, satisfied, respected: it’s like living in one big family. We are bound by mutual respect and esteem and we commit ourselves together to serve the sick and disabled with love and a spirit of welcome. Here everyone can live their faith freely: for example, on Friday I have always been able to leave to go to the mosque to pray”. Bebane defines the relations between Christians and Muslims in Burkina Faso as “good, based on a true acceptance of the other”. In this country, he says, “we grew up together since we were children. I have many Christian friends”.

Respect dignity
In Burkina Faso, as in other French-speaking states in Africa, public health is paid for, and many sick people cannot afford the costs: In the Centre of the Orionine Fathers, patients (who continue to increase, so much as there are plans to expand the medical wards and add both the maternity and pediatrics ward) pay only a symbolic sum: “Our structure is supported thanks to the generosity of many benefactors,” Father Riccardo explains. “We do, however, want our patients to participate, albeit to a very limited extent, in the costs out of respect for their dignity: we want a patient to feel the satisfaction of having contributed in some way to their recovery”.

Sickness is not divine punishment
According to the priest, in Burkina Faso unfortunately, disability is a cause of strong marginalization. For years in fact, together with some associations, his collaborators and the five brothers residing in the capital, he has also been working to promote the rights (for example the right to education and employment) of the disabled people: “Ours is not an easy task; we need to change the mentality of people who often consider not only disability, but every disease, a divine punishment. We spend a lot of time correcting this distorted image of God, to make everyone (Christians, Muslims, followers of the traditional religion) understand that God is never an accomplice of evil, that He wants only the good of humankind and does not punish with illness and infirmity”.

Knocked down by poverty
The Centre - where many European doctors provide free services for several weeks a year - also treats many cases of malaria (which is widespread), dysentery, cholera and typhus, three diseases that occur cyclically in an epidemic form due to the precarious hygiene conditions in which most of the population lives. “In the villages, the houses are built with straw and mud, there is no electricity, and the water usually comes from the ponds for there are no wells”, Father Riccardo says. “The country has mostly very dry soil and a particularly hostile climate: it rains only from June to September and often the violence of the precipitations causes floods. Burkinabe people are prostrated by poverty. Many decide to emigrate: four million live in Ivory Coast, three in Ghana”.

A peaceful future
Bebane, thinking about the future of his country, says: “I am convinced that the good coexistence between Christians and Muslims can benefit the development of this land. Religions, none of which teach evil, must unite people to help everyone improve and progress. I hope and work with commitment so that in my country we can continue to live in peace, without tensions or terrorist attacks”. The sincerely religious people (of different religions) who live and work together in harmony - Father Riccardo concludes - “can show the world that tolerance and authentic respect for the different are possible”.