Pope blesses Colombian nun after four-year kidnapping ordeal

Catholic News Agency

A Colombian nun who was kidnapped over four years ago by Islamic jihadists in Mali met Pope Francis just 24 hours after her release last Saturday.

Francis greeted Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti on Sunday before celebrating Mass at the Vatican and blessed her after it. The Mass was part of the formal opening process leading up to the assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2023.

Narváez (59) was kidnapped in February 2017 in southern Mali, where she had been serving as a missionary for more than 10 years.

A member of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, Narváez had been taken by a group of armed men who broke into the parish in Karangasso village near the Burkina Faso border in February 2017.

She had been working there as a missionary for six years in the parish with three other nuns.

According to a one of the sisters who witnessed the kidnapping, Narváez offered herself in place of two younger nuns the kidnappers were preparing to take.

Throughout the four years until her release on Saturday last week, church officials, governments and intelligence services worked had worked to ensure her safety and secure her release.

A source close to the negotiations for Narváez’s liberation says she hadn’t been mistreated and that she had learned the Quran during her captivity.

In a letter sent through the Red Cross in July 2017 to her brother in Colombia, Narváez said she was being held by the “Group to Support Islam and Muslims,” a group linked to al-Qaida and the largest jihadist alliance in the Sahel.

She appeared in a video in early 2018, begging the pope and her Colombian mother superior to intervene. Another video later that year showed her with six other Western hostages.

In a second video from June 2018, she was shown alongside the French hostage Sophie Petronin and again addressed Pope Francis.

In 2018, Colombian Archbishop José Ruiz Arenas, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, confirmed “the church has been very vigilant, not only in the heart and the prayer of the Holy Father, but also in his concern to seek” her release.

In October 2020 Petronin, who had been released, expressed concern about the Colombian nun’s health. (Following Narváez’s release, Police have confirmed she is suffering from problems with a leg and a kidney.)

Petronin also said the group holding Narváez at that time was the Support Group for Islam and Muslims led by Iyad Ag Ghali, which has been rampant in Mali since 2017.

In February this year, Archbishop Francisco Javier Múnera Correa president of the episcopal commission for missionary animation re-launched an appeal for Narváez.

The Franciscan Sisters also rallied to help their sister, collecting over 90,000 signatures on a petition for her release.

Her release last Saturday was confirmed by Bishop Mario de Jesús Álvarez Gómez.

He thanked the Holy See, the Apostolic Nunciature of Colombia and the Episcopal Conference of Colombia for their help.

Colombia’s government said Narváez’s release involved working with multiple contacts and leaders in Africa.


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