Remembering Fr. Luigi Maccalli SMA – abducted 11 months ago – today!

“Father Gigi Maccalli: “Stubborn witness of the Gospel among the poorest”

Editor’s Note: Today marks the 11th month of the abduction of Fr. Pierluigi Maccalli SMA from his mission in Bomoanga, Niger.

On 13 June 2019, Agenzia Fides carried an interview with an Italian confrere, Fr. Lionello Melchiori SMA, which we have held until today. It is a challenging and reflective piece and encourages us, as we approach the first anniversary of Fr. Luigi’s disappearance, to renew our prayers and hope for his emancipation. 

Let us pray for Fr. Luigi, for his confreres in Niger, for his parishioners, for his captors, and for all the people of Africa’s Sahel in which the Irish SMA Province has a very special interest through the Great Green Wall Project. 

Let us harness Fr. Melchiori’s reflections to help us, and the entire Society of African Missions, prepare to mark the first anniversary of this sad and troubling event in our history. 

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“Every time I read on the turret of our house of the Society for African Missions (SMA) in Genoa, or in front of our house in Feriole: ‘Release Father Gigi’, I ask myself and our community to ask themselves this question: what are we doing to continue his choice?”.

This was reported to Agenzia Fides by Father Lionello Melchiori, SMA missionary from Feriole, on the occasion of the upcoming anniversary of the abduction of Father Gigi Maccalli from his mission in Bomoanga, Niger, on 18 September 2018.

“June 18” – he noted – “was the ninth months since that tragic day. Father Gigi is always in my thoughts as in those of many people who are close to him, who know him, appreciate his missionary choice, his desire to stay and help the poorest, those of Niger, among the poorest countries in the world”.

Fr. Melchiori recalled: “He was stubborn, in love with Jesus and his Gospel, he made this choice despite the perplexity that his proposal aroused in the community: we Italian SMA fathers, felt we were a small group and we were tempted to gather in the areas chosen since the 1960s, where our first brothers had begun. And he won!”.

“Father Gigi was the first Italian to leave to go right where there was a greater need for this type of missionary presence”, explained Fr Melchiori. “He wanted to live close to the poor, trying to help them in their precarious existence and so he opened a new mission, later accepted by the whole Italian SMA community.”

“I often think of his way of being a missionary, of doing mission. Now, more than the beginning, I appreciate him as a “witness for the poorest and the most abandoned”, as our Founder, Mgr. De Brésillac, taught us, with his life choices and his writings. Father Maccalli remains an example of the coherence of a missionary choice, which has become an emblem for us fathers of the SMA, an indication of what must be and will always be our missionary choice, especially in the year 2019, the year in which we have reflected on the missionary choices to respond to the needs of our society and those of the areas of Africa where we operate”.

“I often think and see Fr. Gigi in the situation of Jesus in the garden of olives, left alone, in his suffering, and tempted to desist from his choice”, reflects Fr. Melchiori. “Following the example of Jesus, I feel that Fr. Gigi makes these words his own:

Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me.

To strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. (Luke 22, 42-43).

“His unexpected abduction struck, it literally changed my life. He was also “missionary” to me, the one who made me discover a Word of God that I did not know until the end – that of patience in trials, joy in setbacks, ‘love for the poor and the suffering‘ – as we say every day in prayer for Africa.

When I am tempted to complain about my state of life, my health concerns, the inevitable misunderstandings in community relations, I think of him. I see him as Jesus. Only, without comfort, a silent missionary, a witness of Love and forgiveness, particularly for those who “do not know what they are doing”.

“In my prayer, together with that of so many people who appeal for his release, I pray with our Holy Mother Mary the rosary, for our holy missionaries. And we tell him that we are close to him with our hearts.”