Held for two years by jihadists, missionary is set free

ITALIAN MISSIONARY Father Pier Luigi Maccalli, SMA, has finally been set free, on Oct. 6, more than two years after he was abducted in the Diocese of Niamey in Niger Feb. 17, 2018. At the same time three other hostages were also freed: the French development aid worker Sophie Pétronin, the Italian Nicola Chiacchio and the Malian opposition politician Soumaila Cissé.

Father Pierluigi Maccalli
Father Pierluigi Maccalli

“Thousands of Aid to the Church in Need‘s (ACN) benefactors throughout the world have been praying for the liberation of Father Pierluigi Maccalli and waiting to hear news of him,” commented Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of ACN International. “And our Italian national office has also run a number of campaigns to ensure that this great missionary was not forgotten in his own home country Italy.“

“The news of his release and that of the other hostages gives us reason to hope that the Colombian Sister Gloria Narvaez Argoti may also be among them. Sadly, however, we have so far had no confirmation of this,” Heine-Geldern continued. “In our great joy at the liberation of Father Maccalli we remain concerned however about the fate of this courageous religious sister, who was abducted by jihadist groups in Mali over three years and eight months ago. But we are not giving up hope,” he said.

The most recent news of Sister Gloria dates back to a September 2018 video in which the French hostage Sophie Petronin is also seen. She is known in France as the “last French hostage in the world” and she arrived back in France Oct. 9. Her release had raised hopes that Sister Gloria might also be among the liberated hostages. In the 2018 video, Sister Gloria said that she was “packing her things every day” while awaiting her release. Since then there has been no trace of her, however.

In the most recent report published by ACN International on religious freedom worldwide, which covers the period from June 2016 to June 2018, the security situation in Mali is described as “still very unstable” and it is noted that several Islamist terrorist groups are operating or seeking to extend their influence in the country, among them “Islamic State” or “Al Qaeda in the Maghreb” (AQIM).” The report emphasizes that the “fragile security situation” in the country is “causing problems for religious minorities which, because of their small numbers, are among the most endangered groups in society.” Last August a military coup ousted the government.

—Maria Lozano