Senegal: Vatican Pressures School to Accept Veiled Students

October 29, 2019

In Senegal, a Catholic school tried to refuse the admission of veiled pupils before the Vatican intervened, through the Apostolic Nuncio.

Already under pressure from the government and Muslim activists in the spring of 2019, the St. Joan of Arc School in Dakar (ISJA), property of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny for two centuries, had proposed to all parents a new dress code that would impose an “uncovered head” rule. Families were able to “read it, sign it and validate it before applying for registration,” Ryanna Tall, the Muslim director, told the local press.

In May, speaking on the regulation, the Minister of National Education, Mamadou Talla, did not support the school’s administration but, on the contrary, had referred to “discriminatory acts of a socio-cultural nature” and promised to “take all steps to put an end to such situations.” At a mediation meeting convened on September 11, 2019 by the Minister of National Education, the sub-prefect of the city of Dakar even threatened “to place the school under provisional administration.”

The case has come to a conclusion: the Ministry of National Education has reached a “consensus” with the school administration for the reintegration of the 22 veiled students. The agreement states that they “wear the school uniform along with a scarf, of suitable dimensions, that doesn’t obstruct the uniform and that will be provided by the school.” They returned to class on September 19, 2019.

According to the newspaper Le Témoin cited by the agency, the Vatican played “an essential role” in the resolution of the crisis: “Pope Francis, through his apostolic nuncio to Senegal, Bishop Michael W. Banach, twisted the arm of the administration authorities of St. Joan of Arc School.” At the mediation meeting with the ministry, the nuncio asked the sisters to “make concessions,” for the sake of “safeguarding peace and social cohesion between Christians and Muslims.”