In Somalia elderly Christians not only fear militant Islamists but also their family "who have become intolerant and do not understand". (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
In Somalia elderly Christians not only fear militant Islamists, but also family members “who have become intolerant and do not understand”. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

A small community of 30 elderly Christians live in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in constant fear of militant Islamists and even their relatives, according to Catholic news agency Fides.

“Violence is in [our] homes and we, who are few, we risk our lives every day,” one man, speaking under the pseudonym of Moses, told an Italian priest he recently met.

“Those born in the 90s have become intolerant and do not understand their elders who profess Christianity. Therefore the elders flee, go away from their children and grandchildren,” Moses told the priest, adding that some Christians “were killed by their children’s children”.

“I had the opportunity to meet Moses,” Father Tollu told Fides. “He is a Christian who grew up in the reality of the Italian Protectorate and then in independent Somalia, still very tied to our country. Many consider him the spokesman of the Somali Catholics. He defines his community as endangered.”

Father Tollu told Fides that it was too dangerous to work overtly as a Christian priest because of the security situation and threats posed by the Islamic State group and Al-Shabaab.

Last month World Watch Monitor reported that IS has become active in Somalia and that former Al-Shabaab members have joined.

The militant Islamist group Al-Shabaab, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, was founded in Somalia to “free” the country of all Christians. The group is able to act with impunity in Somalia’s lawless and tribal society. Many tribal leaders see being Somali and being Muslim as one and the same, and leaving Islam as a betrayal.

Churches are almost non-existent in Somalia, and Catholics would be in danger if they were identified, according to Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti, who is responsible for the minimal Catholic presence in Mogadishu – but acts from outside the country.

In August last year, the only Catholic church in Somaliland was closed again only one week after it re-opened, while most Christians in Somaliland are expatriates.

Christians in surrounding countries like Kenya have seen an increase in attacks in recent years, predominantly at the hands of Al-Shabaab, which is based in the border region of Somalia. Militants cross into Kenya to raid towns or attack buses, and have been known to separate Christians from Muslims, and execute the Christians.