Two Italian priests and one Canadian nun have been freed from Cameroon after they were allegedly kidnapped by the terror group Boko Haram in April.
Father Giampaolo Marta, Father Gianantonio Allegri from the Diocese of Vicenza in northeast Italy and Canadian nun Gilberte Bissiere of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame were photographed Sunday being led to the Cameroon capital of Yaoundé, where they were scheduled to meet with the country's president, Paul Biya, later that day.
The three missionaries had been working in the country's parish of Maroua, near Nigeria's border, to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and improve local drinking water when they were kidnapped on April 4. Although no group has taken responsibility for the kidnappings, the Cameroonian government has accused Boko Haram of taking the three missionaries. The group of Islamic militants has taken responsibility for multiple kidnappings in the past year, including the kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian school girls from Chibok, Nigeria, in April.
The group that kidnapped Marta, Allegri and Bissiere is suspected of having taken their three hostages into neighboring Nigeria. Cameroonian officials told AFP on Sunday that their country's negotiators had spent a week in Nigeria, negotiating the missionaries' release.
After two months in captivity, the hostages were "freed overnight, at about 2 in the morning. Our soldiers picked them up from a village close to Amchide," a town located in the country's northern region, a Cameroonian official added to AFP.
Securing the location of the hostages proved difficult, as the kidnappers reportedly changed the meeting place several times, the government official continued. The three missionaries were successfully exchanged for a fee and the freeing of some prisoners, although details on the exchange have not been released.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi addressed the Catholic missionaries' release on Sunday, saying in a statement: "The Pope, who has followed these dramatic events from the start, was immediately informed."
"Our thoughts remain with all the other innocent people who are still being held captive, the victims of unacceptable kidnappings in different regions and conflicts."
Sister Gilberte's order, the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame, also released a statement saying they "rejoice with [Gilberte's] family, and we wish to thank those who have made this release possible."
"On May 31 we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, when Congrégation de Notre-Dame Sisters renew their vows yearly. This year takes on a special meaning as we also celebrate this great news: Sister Gilberte is free!"