Recently the Holy Father has brought the world’s attention to the plight of the starving peoples of Somalia. Yet few know that in this land of fanatical Islamists, amongst the war torn and famine stricken people, there are Catholics.
Catholicism was introduced into Somalia in the late 19th Century, by Italian colonials. At the same time, in the British territory of Somalia, some French Missionaries had established a Mission. Catholicism was mostly restricted to the colonialists, until the abolishment of slavery by the Italian colonial government; brought about by the anti-slavery activist Father Robecchi Bricchetti. Soon after, many conversions were made amongst the emancipated slaves.
In 1928 a Cathedral was built in Mogadishu, the country’s Capital city. The Cathedral was the largest in Africa at the time.
In 1950 there were 8,500 Catholics in the country, served by 16 Priests. With the end of colonial rule, Catholicism rapidly declined. In 1975 the Diocese of Mogadishu was established; the whole country is contained in this Diocese. The first and only Bishop of the Diocese was Bishop Pietro Salvatore Colombo O.F.M. In 1989 he was murdered in the Cathedral while saying Mass. During the civil war, which started in 1991, the Cathedral was completely destroyed by Muslim fundamentalists.
Since then, Somalia's national government has collapsed and the country has been controlled by rival warlords. Christians have often been targets of violence and intimidation in this Muslim country. There are reports of a systematic eradication of Christians and all traces and influences of Christianity- a Christian genocide. All Churches and Church buildings have been destroyed.
The care of the Catholic Church in Somalia was given to Bishop Giorgio Bertin O.F.M, who is the Bishop of the neighbouring country of Djibouti. He was appointed Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu.
According to a recent report by Vatican Radio there are only 100 Catholics in Somalia today, who are dispersed and prohibited from gathering together. Bishop Bertin O.F.M can only contact these few Catholics by phone and he has not been able to visit them for the last 2 years. Most of these Catholics are situated in central Somalia. According to Bishop Bertin, for the Church to act more directly and to be openly present lies in the re-establishment of a stable Somali state.