Pilgrimage of a lifetime:  Two Boko Haram victims blessed by the Pope

“Pray for us and help us. Pray also for many women around the world, that they might gain freedom from captivity.” These were the words of Nigerian Boko Haram victim Janada Marcus, when she—along with her companion, and fellow Boko Haram captive, Maryamu Joseph—met Pope Francis March 8 after his general audience.

 Janada (22) and Maryamu (16) both suffered greatly at the hands of Boko Haram, witnessing the killing of family. Janada saw her father beheaded in front of her, killed because he refused to have sex with his daughter. Maryamu, who spent nine years as a captive of the terror group, saw her brother cut to pieces, while her sister is still in captivity.

“They put the Christians in cages, like animals,” Maryamu told ACN. “The first thing they did was forcefully convert us to Islam. … They warned us not to pray as Christians or we would be killed.” “I suffered a lot of terrible and wicked experiences,” Janada told ACN. Her father’s killers “took me to the bush and tortured me severely, emotionally, physically and mentally for six days.”

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) sponsored their trip to Italy after the girls’ testimony about their experiences, recorded by an ACNUSA journalist, had brought them widespread attention.

Pope Francis blesses Janada Marcus, as Maryamu looks on (Vatican News)

They were accompanied on their journey by Father Joseph Fidelis, a priest of the Diocese of Maiduguri in Borno State, Nigeria. Father Bature, a trained psychologist, heads the diocesan trauma center, funded by ACN donors, where both women received psychological care to aid in their recovery.  Father Fidelis said both Maryamu and Janada had made steady progress in “reconnecting with the world” since their treatment began.

Referring to meeting with Pope Francis, Maryamu said she “couldn’t imagine this happening to us.” Janada called it an “out of this world” experience and said that when the Pope said he’d pray for her, she “felt different.” Using an expression of her native Hausa language, Janada said her heart was “wide and full of joy.” The Pope gave a rosary to both visitors and Maryamu expressed a desire to lean the prayer. She was taken at age 7 and had no schooling until last year. She is still learning to read and write.

Also on March 8, Janada and Maryamu met with Italian Prime Minister, Georgia Meloni, and other political dignitaries, including Italian President, Sergio Mattarella. On March 9, the two were scheduled to meet with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, as well as ambassadors accredited to the Holy See.

“This wonderful trip bringing Janada and Maryamu to the Vatican is an example of the Church as healer, binding the wounds of the innocent,” said Edward Clancy, director of outreach for ACNUSA. “This experience will change their lives.”

To access ACN’s collection of testimonies from victims of terror in Nigeria, please click here.