In Mali, joy at release of kidnapped priest

AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED (ACN) has confirmed the July 13 release of Father Leon Douyon, a priest from Ségué in the Mopti region of Mali.

In a message received by the ACN, Bishop Jean-Baptiste Tiama of Mopti expressed his joy at the news: “Our brother Léon Douyon was separated, far from us. This afternoon he has returned to us and we are very happy.”

Father Leon was kidnapped June 21 along with four laypeople on their way to a funeral. Four of the hostages were released within hours, but the priest was held by the jihadists.

Father Douyon

Bishop Tiama thanked “all the acquaintances and strangers who contributed to his liberation.” Father Léon was released near Bandiagara, where he is currently resting before returning to Mopti, the bishop reported.

The prelate also asked each priest of the diocese to celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving for the return of the priest. The faithful of Ségué, where Father Leon serves, gathered immediately upon receiving the news to give thanks for his release. Images of the joyful celebration have reached ACN.

“Thanks to your prayers and blessings on every side, you now have me once again among you to continue with the mission of Jesus Christ. Thank you again and again for everything you have done for me, for my family, for the family of the faithful. Thank you, thank you so much!”, said Father León in a message explicitly thanking the benefactors of ACN for their prayers.

He asked everyone to “continue praying also for Sister Gloria, a Colombian missionary sister who was also abducted in Mali four years ago. According to ACN sources, Sister Gloria is now being held by a different terrorist group, linked to Al Qaeda and calling itself the “Group for the Support of Islam and the Muslims” (Groupe de soutien à l’islam et aux musulmans).

Since 2012, jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have carried out kidnappings to obtain money or exert political pressure. These groups include Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM) and the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara (ISGS).

In addition to an increase in jihadist activity with a clear religious objective to impose sharia and Islamic fundamentalism among the population, there are serious conflicts between ethnic groups and communities in the Mopti region. The conflicts, largely focused on ownership of land and access to resources, are between the Fulani, mainly Muslims, and the Dogon, who mostly practice traditional, animist religions and some Christians.

According to data from ACN’s 2021 Religious Freedom in the World report, the Sunni branch of Islam predominates in Mali. About 13 percent of the population belongs to other religions. Christians make up just over 2 percent, with two-thirds of them Catholic and the other third Protestant. Mali is also home to traditional African religions (almost 9 percent of the population); some Muslims and Christians also incorporate African traditions into their ritual observances.

—Maria Lozano