In Fatima, missionary thanks Our Lady for his liberation from jihadist kidnappers

IT WAS A LOW-KEY, PRIVATE PILGRIMAGE. On the first Sunday of August Father Pier Luigi Maccalli visited the shrine of Fatima in Portugal to thank Our Lady for his liberation last October, after almost two years after being kidnapped in Niger by a jihadist group based in Africa’s Sahel region.

In an exclusive interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), missionary Father Pierluigi, Maccalli, SMA, also called attention to the case of Sister Gloria Narváez Argoti, the Colombian sister still held captive by the jihadists after more than four years.

He said: “Every day I pray for this sister, who after four and a half years still remains in the hands of her abductors. I suffered two years of imprisonment, and it was a long time. She has spent twice as long; she is a woman, and she is alone. I believe that she needs a great many prayers.”

“The most difficult moment for me was when they handcuffed me. I recall the date: it was October 5, 2018, after having taken me by motorbike across Burkina Faso. On that day we arrived at a cave, and it was there that they handcuffed me to a tree. It was a very uncomfortable moment. I wept, and I cried out to God ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

“I believe they [the terrorists] were well organized, for my abductors in Niger were young Fulani men from an area close to Burkina Faso. The day after I was abducted, I could see them telephoning. Without doubt they were giving details about me and were given orders to take me in the direction of Mali. When I asked them where they were taking me, they told me ‘to the Arabs.’

Father Maccalli

The Arabs were people living in Mali. And they did in fact deliver me to these Arabs, who then took me by car into the Sahara Desert. A year later they took me to another area where there were Tuareg people. In the first video they made, they told me to say that the first group that had abducted me were called the ‘Group for the Support of Islam and the Muslims.’ This is a group that includes various other associations linked to Al Qaeda.”

“The Church was born of persecution, right from its beginnings. From every trial a new community is born, a new awareness. I’m quite certain that this difficult time—for me, for my community and for many communities in Africa that are going through this time of terrorism—will bear fruits of peace, fruits of liberty, fruits of new life, and perhaps also a new self-awareness in so many communities that are currently being put to the test.

“I made a rosary out of a piece of cloth, from the head covering that protected my head from the sun, and every day I prayed to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, entrusting this great and knotty problem to her and asking her to intercede for my liberation, for my family, for my community and for peace in the world.

This rosary was my constant companion throughout my time of captivity. I often say that Mary and the Holy Spirit sustained me during that difficult time when I experienced the dark night of the soul and felt the silence of God. Yet, at the same time, prayer gave me strength each day.”

“I owe a debt of gratitude to Mary and especially to Our Lady of Fatima, because my liberation happened on the feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. I was actually released on 8 October 2020, but it was on the evening before, the evening of the feast of the Holy Rosary, that I was given the news of my liberation.

“It was this connection, even if only a symbolic one, that I wanted to honor by coming to Fatima at this time to pray the Rosary and thank Mary for her intercession, to thank God for my liberation, which was, I believe, the fruit of so many prayers—not only my own but those of my family, of my people. Every day, since my abduction, they have been praying the Rrosary every evening, in my country and in my diocese. Throughout those 17 months they made pilgrimages, held times of prayer. I know that people also prayed in other parts of the world.

“There was a river of prayer. I believe that it was prayer that opened the door to my liberation.”

—Paulo Aido