Rome ( AsiaNews) - "From Somalia to Iraq, including Egypt and Syria, Christians are often persecuted and flee. Many consider them as something alien from the Muslim majority. Several extremist religious leaders try to hinder their presence and existence in these countries, which are often the only opposition to the hatred and violence imposed by the ideologies of Islamic extremists," said Mgr Giorgio Bertin, bishop of Djibouti and apostolic administrator of Mogadishu. For years, the bishop has cared for the small Catholic communities in the two countries, who live in an environment dominated by Islamic extremism, anarchy and terrorist violence.
"In Somalia," he said, "the population is victim of the chaos and cruelty caused by Islamic courts and the al-shabab movement, which exports terrorists all over the world."
On Saturday, the terrorist group fighting to establish an Islamic state in the Horn of Africa attacked the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi ( Kenya), taking hundreds of hostages for three days. The assault by at least 20 terrorists ended with over 60 people dead and hundreds injured.
"From Somalia to Iraq, Christians are often considered something alien from the Muslim majority and experience strong social pressure because of their presence," Mgr Bertin noted.
"We fear," he explained, "fanatical groups that pursue a religious ideology that does not represent the thoughts and ideas of the majority of the population. Somalia is an example of how some areas of the Middle East could become in the event of a collapse of the government. If central authorities do not exert their power, they [the al-shahab] are free to do whatever they want justify their belligerence by pointing to the Christian presence."
For the prelate, people usually wonder what is the sense of the mission in these countries, where Christians risk their life, places like "Somalia where there are less than 100 Christians" or "Djibouti, which has about 5,000."
"In the West, people are often amazed by these places' numbers: no priests, less than 100 Christians, inability to convert to Christianity. Such figures apparently discourage the Church's mission. However, bearing witness to the Gospel in countries like Somalia means giving oneself to God's initiative, participating with Christians in the hopes and the suffering of the whole population."
"The mission is addressed primarily to Muslims who thanks to the Christian presence often find a new way of life, one that responds with love to the hatred and violence imposed by the ideologies of Islamic extremists," Mgr. Bertin noted.
"Unfortunately," he said, "this approach cannot be measured. Only with faith and hope can we measure the meaning of our presence."