A Franciscan nun from Colombia, who was kidnapped in southern Mali in 2017 by extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda, has been freed and met with Pope Francis.
Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti, a member of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, was released Saturday, France 24 reported. She was taken hostage in February 2017 in southern Mali near the border with Burkina Faso where she had been working as a missionary.
In the West African country, jihadi insurgencies led by groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are known for carrying out abductions for ransom and committing atrocities.
“I thank the Malian authorities, the president, all the Malian authorities, for all the efforts you've made to liberate me, may God bless you, may God bless Mali,” the nun said on state television.
“I am very happy, I stayed healthy for five years, thank God,” the nun added.
She was freed after “four years and eight months of the combined effort of several intelligence services,” the presidential Twitter account said.
“We prayed a lot for her release,” the Archbishop of Bamako, Jean Zerbo, was quoted as saying. “I thank the Malian authorities and other good people who made this release possible.”
Mali’s interim President Colonel Assimi Goita also said “efforts are under way” to get all those still being held in Mali freed.
On Sunday, the pontiff met with the nun.
“This morning, before the celebration of the holy mass to open the bishops’ synod, the pope greeted the recently freed Colombian sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement, the Daily Telegraph reported.
In June, a Catholic priest and four other people were freed by their kidnappers in Mali.
Three days after the kidnappings, Gunmen drove the five victims to the village of Parou within the Diocese of Mopti in central Mali and dropped them off at a roadside, Catholic News Service reported at the time.
The victims were identified as Fr. Léon Douyon, the parish priest of Ségué; Thimothé Somboro, the village chief of Ségué; Pascal Somboro, deputy mayor; and two other members of the community, Emmanuel Somboro and Boutié Tolofoudié.
The five were abducted as they were traveling to the funeral of a priest, Fr. Oscar Thera, in the town of San.
Kidnappings in Mali are usually carried out for ransom or to exert political pressure on the government.
In April, the body of Beatrice Stockli, an evangelical missionary from Switzerland who was held captive by extremists in Mali affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb since January 2016, was found.
Stockli was initially kidnapped in 2012 but was released 10 days later after mediation led by neighboring Burkina Faso. The missionary left Mali after being asked to do so by her family. However, she soon returned even though the Swiss government warned her not to.
Mali is ranked as the 28th-worst country in the world for Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2021 World Watch List.
The organization, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, reports that many Christians were forced to flee after Islamic extremists took control of northern Mali in 2012. While many have returned under police protection, evangelistic activities in northern Mali are “especially risky” since they can lead to attacks and abductions.