Niger archbishop determined to renew friendly ties with Muslims after violent Charlie Hebdo protests

Churchgoer Romain Oke amid the ruins of an evangelical church destroyed in riots in Niamey, Niger.Reuters

Despite the violent attacks carried out by Muslim mobs in the Niger, the Archbishop in the capital city of Niamey is determined to mend ties with the Muslim community all over the country.

Violence erupted in various cities in the Niger on January 16 and 17 following the publication of French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo of a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Enraged Muslims attacked in mobs and destroyed properties owned by Christians including places of worship.

"We're still trying to understand the savagery which erupted here -- but it's certain it was well thought-out, prepared and organised," outgoing Archbishop Michel Cartateguy of Niamey told the Catholic News Service.

The Archbishop is due to be replaced by Archbishop Djalwana Laurent Lompo, but his successor has not yet been installed due to the eruption of violence.

Archbishop Cartateguy also told CNS of his belief that Islamist group Boko Haram had "certainly helped direct" the orchestration of the attacks against Christians in Niamey, Zinder and Maradi. The Archbishop also said that the violence included children, some "as young as 10."

On the other hand, the Archbishop also thanked the courage of the local Muslims who protected Christians during 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," the Archbishop revealed.

Archbishop Cartateguy said that the local Muslims were only following the teachings of their prophet Mohammed. "They told me the prophet Muhammad protected Christians in his day and pledged to follow his example by helping Christians in danger now," he told the CNS.

For now, the Archbishop said that what they have to do is rebuild not only their churches but also their ties with their Muslim neighbours.

"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," he said.