Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo as archbishop of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on October 16, 2023. At 78, Cardinal Ouédraogo remains one of the great figures of the Catholic Church in Africa, and an important moral figure in his country. He is still a cardinal elector in the event of a conclave until January 25, 2025, when he turns 80.
To replace him, the Pope has appointed Prosper Kontiébo, who from 2012 until now was the bishop of the Diocese of Tenkodogo, in the center-east of the country. Born in 1960 in Boassa, in the archdiocese of Ouagadougou, he made his perpetual vows in 1988 as a member of the Order of Clerics Regular for the Sick (Camillians) founded by St. Camillus de Lellis (1550-1614).
At 63, now-Archbishop Prosper Kontiébo is taking over from Cardinal Ouédraogo, who had been at the head of the archdiocese for 14 years. Created cardinal at the first consistory convoked by Pope Francis in 2014, Philippe Ouédraogo was elected in 2019 for a three-year term as president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).
Background and early ministry
Born in 1945 in Konéan, in the Diocese of Kaya, north of Ouagadougou, Philippe Nakellentuba Ouédraogo comes from a family of Muslim origins. But already as a boy he had embraced the Catholic faith and a vocation to the priesthood; he entered the minor seminary and then the seminary once he had finished high school.
The man nicknamed “Little Shepherd of the Burkinabe Savannah” received ordination to the priesthood in 1973 for the Diocese of Kaya. After serving as curate, he left to continue his training in Rome, at the Pontifical Urban University. Four years later, in 1982, he obtained a doctorate in canon law. Back in the “land of upright men” (the meaning of the name Burkina Faso), the young priest became the parish priest of Kaya Cathedral.
Interreligious dialogue for peace
In 1996, John Paul II appointed him bishop of the Diocese of Ouahigouya, in the north of the country, which has a very large Muslim majority. At the age of 51, he became involved in the implementation of the first special synod for Africa, which had just taken place in Rome. In 2001, his peers elected him head of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger, a post he held until 2007.
Two years later, Benedict XVI appointed him Archbishop of Ouagadougou. Here, he was fully committed to dialogue with other religions, notably Islam — for example, he took part in prayers at the breaking of Ramadan — and traditional religions (15%).
The Archdiocese has some 3,800 Catholics per priest, with a Catholic population of just over one million, served by 280 priests. There are also more than 500 women religious in the archdiocese.
The unity of religious leaders in the face of violence is a key to ensuring peace in this region of Africa, which was shaken after the collapse of the Libyan regime in 2011. Following the fall of Gaddafi, the Sahel has been flooded with weapons and fighters, and Mali, north of Burkina Faso, has become a hub for jihadism.
A mediator in a destabilized country
In northern Burkina Faso, attacks multiplied from 2015 onwards. They have caused the deaths of thousands of people and thrown hundreds of thousands of families onto the roads. The rise of Islamic extremism is upsetting communities’ balance, and Christians are not the only victims of these atrocities; Muslims are also paying a heavy price.
During the popular uprising in 2014 that ousted Burkina Faso’s President Compaoré from power, religious leaders stood by the people and offered mediation for a non-violent transition. Charged with setting up the structures for this transition, the cardinal rejected the idea that Archbishop Paul Ouédraogo of the Archdiocese of Bobo-Dioulasso could take on the role of transitional president. In line with canon law (285 §3) he believed that a man of the cloth could not lead the political destiny of a country.
A few years later, in early 2022, when it was President Kaboré’s turn to see his power waver due to his inability to curb jihadist violence, Cardinal Ouédraogo was urgently called in to mediate so that the head of state could leave without the situation ending in bloodshed.
Defender of women, family
A moral leader and a man of dialogue, he does not hesitate to attack those who, under the pretext of tradition, practice witchcraft or accuse certain women of such practices. In Ouagadougou, he opened a shelter for women driven out of their villages for alleged witchcraft.
In 2014, Pope Francis created him a cardinal. He thus became the second Burkinabe to receive the cardinal’s biretta, 14 years after the death of Cardinal Paul Zoungrana. A few months later, he took part in the two synods on the family in 2014 and 2015.
The cardinal is a defender of the family. For example, he wrote in his Easter 2021 message that “Christian and African families should rebel against the imperialism of certain lobbies and associations that propose and want to impose homosexual marriage, sexual libertinism, and divorce.” He also speaks out against anti-natalist policies and challenges those who blame African demographics for the continent’s poverty.