Burkina Faso, The Catholic Church in

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Formerly called Upper Volta, the Republic of Burkina Faso is located in West Africa. Bordered on the west and north by Mali, it shares its eastern border with Niger and Benin, its southern border with Togo, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast. A vast plateau, 650 to 1,000 feet in elevation, Burkina Faso has seen increasing desertification due to the encroachment of the Sahara Desert. Although natural resources include marble, gold, and manganese and zinc deposits, the country's impoverished population engages in subsistence agriculture while serving as migratory labor to surrounding nations. One of the poorest nations in the world, Burkina Faso was a French territory until 1960. The region's 160 or so ethnic groups, very unequal in size, comprise three main families. Nearly half the Burkinabe population are Mossi, who controlled the area until the late 19th century. Other tribes include the Gurunsi, Senufo, Lobi, Bobo, Mande, and Fulani.

Ecclesiastically, the Archdiocese of Ouagadougou oversees the diocese of Bobo-Dioulasso, Diébougou, Fada N'Gourma, Kaya, Koudougou, Koupéla, Manga, Nouna-Dédougou, Ouahigouya, and Banfora.

Muslim influence dates from the 11th century, when Burkina Faso was ruled by competing Mossi states. In 1897 the French entered the region and incorporated Burkina Faso first into French Sudan (now Mali) and then as Upper Volta. Catholic evangelization began almost immediately after the French arrived, when the Algerian-based White Fathers (now the missionaries of africa) traveled from Sudan and Dahomey (modern Benin) and founded missions at Koupéla (1900) and Ouagadougou (1901). The first Burkinabe baptisms were in 1905. White Sisters arrived in 1911. Conversions were most common among the Mossi, who had previously accepted Islam. A minor seminary opened in 1926, and a major one in 1942. In 1955 the Archdiocese of Ouagadougou was created and made the single metropolitan see.

Dieudonné Yougbaré was made bishop of Koupéla in 1956, the first native of West Africa to receive episcopal consecration. Another African, Paul Zoungrana (19172000), became archbishop of Ouagadougou in 1960 and served as cardinal from 1965 to 1995.

In 1960 Burkina Faso gained its independence, but was torn by a military coup a decade later. A succession of military dictatorships would follow until 1991, when the country held its first multi-party election and established a new constitution and a parliamentary government. In 1980 and again ten years later Burkina Faso celebrated visits by Pope John Paul II, who encouraged the region's Catholics to reach out to those of other faiths. Despite efforts at improving the quality of life for its citizens, during the 1990s the government was burdened by a failing economy and a large external debt due to its long-term reliance on foreign aid. In addition to advocating for the forgiveness of this debt, the pope aggressively addressed the threats posed by the encroachment of the Sahara through the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel.

Beginning in 1996, Cor Unum, the Pope's private charity, donated millions of dollars to both promote irrigation and combat the poverty, hunger, and health risks caused by desertification.

Although religious groups were required to register with the government, Burkina Faso's constitution of June 2, 1991, respected religious freedom. By 2000 Burkina Faso had 115 parishes, 374 secular and 144 religious priests, 145 brothers, and 990 sisters. In addition to running several primary and secondary schools in the predominately Catholic sections of Burkina Faso, the Church operated five radio stations and published a number of evangelical periodicals. The country celebrated its first century of evangelization on Jan. 16, 2001, with the visit of a papal envoy.

Bibliography: Bilan du Monde 2:440444. Annuaire des Diocèses d'Expression Française pour l'Afriqueet Madagascar (Paris 1955). Annuario Pontifico has statistics annually on all dioceses, vicariates and prefectures.

[j. r. de benoist/eds.]