Somaliland's only Catholic church closes, a week after reopening

Source: ACN/Mark T Jones/ The Nation/Open Doors

The only Catholic church in Somaliland, East Africa, which was officially re-opened on 29 July, has been closed again, due to 'public pressure'.

The opening ceremony at the restored church of St Anthony of Padua, one of a number of churches built 70 years ago during British rule, had been attended amidst increased security, by ministers of the autonomous region of Somalia, and expatriates. The church is located in the Shaab area of the region’s capital, Hargeisa, where there are many government offices.

But, Somaliland’s Religious Affairs Minister, Skeikh Khalil Abdullahi, explained: “The issue has created a lot of division … which is not in our national interest… The government has decided to respect the wishes of the people and their religious leaders, and keep the church closed as it has been for the past 30 years.” Before the opening, he told the Nation: “Somaliland’s constitution and Sharia allows foreigners to work in Somaliland and to practise their religion privately… Our government will not allow any new church to be built in Somaliland.”

Most Christians in Somaliland are expats, and a smaller number are Ethiopian immigrants.

In 1991, the northern third of Somalia (formerly a British protectorate) seceded, but has yet to gain international recognition as an independent country.

Bishop Giorgio Bertin, the apostolic administrator of Mogadishu and bishop of Djibouti, re-consecrated the church late last year. He said it had been shut because of the danger Christians face in the Muslim-majority country.

“Not many people come to Mass – ten at most,” he told Aid to the Church in Need. “But nonetheless it is important.”

The bishop said Somaliland is in practice fairly free from control by the provisional Somali government in Mogadishu.

“There is no possible way of having a presence in Mogadishu,” he said, adding that Catholics in Somalia would be in danger if they were identified. All pastoral work is done secretly, he said, adding: “Even if it has to be silently, it is better to be there than not to be there.”

Somalia is No.2 on the 2017 Open Doors’ World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

Somaliland is not independently surveyed as it is not internationally recognised.

Somali specialist Mark T Jones analyses the situation in more depth in this article in the Somaliland Press. See:
www.somalilandpress.com/somalilandevents-have-consequences/