Archbishop in Niger says ‘hearts and minds’ needs remoulding after Charlie Hebdo protests

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(Reuters)

Christian Today report- A Nigerien archbishop has said the Church doesn’t just need to rebuild the churches that were destroyed in the protests against French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo but “hearts and minds” must also be reconstructed.

The protests began in the city of Zinder on January 16, before spreading to several other cities the following day, including the capital, Niamey. At least 10 people were killed in the attacks and churches were set on fire, many completely destroyed. World Watch Monitor said 70 churches had been damaged, although the Nigerien police reported only 45.

“We now have to reconstruct hearts and minds deeply scarred by these events and renew the friendly ties we always had with the Muslim community,” Archbishop Michel Cartateguy of Niamey told Catholic News Service.

The protests were allegedly a response to the publication of the first Charlie Hebdo magazine after the attacks on its offices in Paris on January 7. The week after the shooting, the magazine’s cover featured a cartoon of Muhammad holding a sign saying “All is forgiven”.

The archbishop said he thought the publication of the cartoons was merely a pretext for the riots. He said members of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, based in northern Nigeria, “certainly helped direct” the violence in neighbouring Niger.

Nigerian officials have also reported the connection to Boko Haram, particularly in Zinder.

“We’re still trying to understand the savagery which erupted here – but it’s certain it was well thought-out, prepared and organized,” Cartateguy said.

The archbishop praised the courage of Muslims who didn’t participate in the violence but rather protected Christians from the violence.

“We know some local Muslims, young included, showed courage and solidarity by sheltering Christians in their family homes. Some also stood in our church doorways saying the rioters would have to kill them as well,” he said.

President Mahamadou Issoufou condemned the violence in the majority-Muslim nation. “Those who pillage religious sites and profane them, those who persecute and kill their Christian compatriots or foreigners who live on our soil, have understood nothing of Islam,” he said.

Cartateguy told CNS that there was “still great fear” in Zindar and that his diocese was still sheltering around 100 lay Christians and clergy from the city.

Source: Christian Today

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