AFRICA/NIGER – SMA Missionary Kidnapped by suspected Jihadists

Latest Update: 2pm, Wednesday 19 September 2018

In a statement, Niamey’s Archbishop Laurent Lompo said Father Pier Luigi Maccalli was attacked and abducted by “unidentified individuals” on Monday evening.

The Vatican News Agency, Agenzia Fides, reported the following additional information:

… missionaries in the General Curia of SMA in Genoa stated that a group of armed men entered the village at 9.30 pm local time (11.30 pm Italian time) yesterday, abducted the priest, stole his computer and his phone. It was possible to reconstruct the facts thanks to the testimony of an Indian confrere, who lives with father Pierluigi, who managed to escape…

“In the last few months,” Fr Maccalli’s confreres told Fides, “the police have warned the religious. The police and law enforcement agencies had in fact registered suspicious movements of jihadist militiamen right at the border with Burkina Faso”. In order to protect their own safety, the missionaries had thus limited their travels and no longer left the mission during the night.

“After the abduction – report the Curia of SMA – Father Maccalli was probably brought beyond the border. In the neighboring region of Burkina Faso there is, in fact, a vast forest in which the jihadist militants have their bases. Currently the diocese of Niamey has sent a group of priests to the village of Father Maccalli to verify the facts and to make contact with the local community”. (EC) (Agenzia Fides, 18/9/2018)

Defence Web, describing itself as ‘Africa’s leading defence news portal’ reporting on Fr. Maccalli’s kidnapping added:

“Western powers, primarily France but also the United States, have deployed thousands of troops in the semi-arid Sahel region to combat what they see as a growing Islamist militant threat that targets both civilians and the military.

In April, a German humanitarian worker was abducted by men riding motorcycles near Niger’s western border with Mali. Last October the Islamic State’s affiliate in West Africa claimed responsibility for an attack in Niger’s borderlands that killed four members of the U.S. special forces and at least four Nigerien soldiers.

“What is worrying us in particular is a bigger capacity of these terrorist groups to act, especially near the three borders,” said a French diplomatic source, referring to Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. France has some 4,500 troops in the area.” 

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News has reached Ireland of the kidnapping of an Italian SMA missionary in southwest Niger, in the latest abduction of foreigners in the troubled Sahel country. 

During the night of Monday,  September 17, Fr. Pierluigi Maccalli SMA was kidnapped by suspected jihadists operating in Bamoanga, a village 125 kilometres from the capital Niamey. He has served in Niger for 11 years.

The Communications Chief for the Catholic Mission to Niger, Thomas Codjovi, stated:
“The kidnapping happened at around 9pm. According to local residents, about eight men arrived on motorbikes, broke into his house opposite the church and forced him to go with them. They returned 10 minutes later, firing into the air to frighten people. There were also nuns there, but he was the only one they wanted to kidnap.”

News of the kidnapping was reported by his confrere, Fr. Mauro Armanino, who says the area has been in a state of emergency for some months due to this presence of terrorists from Mali and Burkina Faso.

The Society of African Missions (SMA) confirmed the abduction via the Mondo E Missione page on Facebook which you can access by clicking here.  The statement says that the Society is in “round-the-clock contact” with a crisis desk at the Italian foreign ministry and that “there has been no claim by the kidnappers at present.” The SMA, through the local Church, are in close contact with state and civil authorities in Niger. 

Father Maccalli, an experienced missionary with several years service also in the Ivory Coast, was serving in the parish of Bomoanga in the diocese of Niamey, having transferred there from the diocese of Crema. He was active in evangelization and integral human development, building schools, dispensaries and offering training for young farmers. His brother, Fr. Walter Maccalli, is also a member of the Society of African Missions, serving in Angola. 

The Catholic Mission of the SMA Fathers in Niger is located in the Gourmancé area (South-West) on the border with Burkina Faso and about 125 km from the capital Niamey. The people of Gourmancé are agriculturalists, with around 30,000 inhabitants living in this region.

The SMA Mission was present in Niger from 1931-1948. It returned at the invitation of the local Church in 1976 and remains there until now. Since the 1990s more than 20 missionaries have visited the villages of Gourmancé, of which 12 have active Small Christian Communities.

The Catholic Church in Niger strongly supports the social gospel and the Mission of Bomoanga has a strong commitment to Integral Human Development through its small faith based communities called CSD (Comité de Solidarité et Developpement).

The Vatican News Agency, Agenzia Fides, reports that poverty in Niger is structural and that health and hygiene problems are enormous. There is widespread illiteracy due to a shortage of educational facilities; there is also a scarcity of water, a consequence of increasing desertification and Global Warming. The lack of roads and other means of communication make the area isolated and forgotten. 

Jihadists are suspected to be responsible for the kidnapping of Fr. Pierluigi Maccalli SMA

Niger has become a target for recurring jihadist attacks from neighbouring Nigeria and especially in areas in the southwest that lie close to the border with Mali.

A German humanitarian worker was kidnapped in the same region of Tillaberi in April, while an American aid worker was seized farther north in October 2016. Security officials believe that they have been taken to northern Mali as hostages.

Niger is a predominantly Muslim country, where between one and two percent of the inhabitants are Christians in a population of about 20m.

The SMA Communications Office (Ireland) will keep our readers updated on any news about the wellbeing of Fr. Maccalli SMA. The Superior General of the Society of African Missions, Fr. Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, and the Provincial of the Irish Province, Fr. Michael McCabe SMA, ask that our readers keep Fr. Maccalli, his family and confreres, in your prayers over the coming days.

To read the Reuters report on the kidnapping, please click here. 

For additional information on the SMA mission to Niger, please click here.