, 16 October, 2020 / 11:17 PM
Even in chains, Fr. Pier Luigi Maccalli who was held in captivity for over two years after he was kidnapped by unknown men in the West African nation of Niger remained true to his Christian faith, walking in prayer with all people he had interacted with during his mission in the West Africa.
In an interview with the Society of African Missions (SMA) Media Center, a couple of days after he was freed, Fr. Maccalli said that though his body was held prisoner, this never stopped him from living his missionary life.
“I always felt that I was a missionary even with chained feet,” Fr. Macalli, a member of the SMA says in the interview in French that was posted on YouTube October 12.
He added, “I often walked on the tracks of Bomoanga-Niger, the mission from which I had been kidnapped. My body was a prisoner of the sand dunes but my spirit went to the villages that I named in my prayer and I also repeated the names of my collaborators and of so many people that I carry in my heart.”
On October 8, Mali's government announced the release of Fr. Luigi alongside three others, including Malian politician Soumaïla Cissé, a French social worker, Sophie Petronin, and an Italian citizen, Nicola Chiacchio.
The 59-year-old native of Italy was kidnapped by unknown people in his Church the night of 17 September 2018 in Bomoanga, near the border between Niger and Burkina Faso.
In the interview, Fr. Maccalli recounts the harrowing details of a certain Monday evening, the day of his kidnapping when his assailants whisked him away in his pyjamas.
“It was a quiet Monday evening. I had just celebrated the Eucharist, had dinner and I had retired as usual to prepare for the next day,” the Cleric says in the interview.
He adds, “Even though it was still early, I decided I was going to get into my pyjamas and get ready for bed, when I heard noises outside the house, the office and I asked, who's there? in the local language but there was no response.”
For a moment, Fr. Maccalli who ran a pharmacist in the confines of the Parish residence thought that he had a late client and went outside to attend to the supposed client.
“To my surprise, I found myself surrounded by four men who were armed with guns in. In shock, I threw away the torch I had in my hand. I was tied up, with my hands behind me,” he narrates.
“The men started firing in the air and I was really terrified. It was so confusing. I thought they were thieves because they asked me for money. I gave them all I had in the house. But then they took me with them out of the parish. We walked outside the village where I was asked to sit and wait,” the Cleric recounts.
He adds that a short while later, other men arrived on motorcycles and took him to an unknown place where he would be held captive for nearly two years.
Narrating his experience at the hands of his abductors, the Italian-born Cleric says, “They respected me. They called me the old man. Their objective was to convert me to Islam.”
Often, the jihadists who were behind his kidnapping tried to talk Fr. Maccalli into abandoning Christianity and when they failed, they told him he was destined for hell, he recalls in the interview.
“They told me you will die in hell if you don’t convert to Islam. It was this psychological pressure that I went through. But in general, they always respected me,” he says.
When asked about what kept him going during the psychological torture, the Cleric says, “Resist in order to exist! This is the motto that accompanied me and gave me the courage to go forward day after day.”
He adds, “They took me away in pyjamas and slippers. I had nothing and I was seen as nothing by these jihadist Muslim zealots who considered me an impure "kefir" (infidel) and condemned me to hell.”
His strongest support, he recalls, was a simple morning and evening prayer that his mother had taught him while growing up as well as the recitation of the Holy Rosary.
“I was never afraid, I was ready to die; I cried to God, I was sometimes upset with Him, but I always felt He was there and He was the only presence that sustained me... I prayed my Rosary, which I fabricated from a small string,” the member SMA recalls.
Fr. Maccalli had been a missionary in Ivory Coast for several years before being commissioned to the Archdiocese of Niamey at Bomoanga parish, which has been described as “an isolated and neglected area because of the lack of roads, communications and infrastructure.”
In the interview, he describes his captivity as a “desert”, a time of great silence, purification, a return to the origins and to the essential.
“It was an opportunity for me to see the film of my life… I asked myself many questions and I cried out with passion and complaint to God: where are You? Why have You abandoned me? Until when Lord?”
Every day and especially on Sundays, Fr. Maccalli recited the words of the Consecration, “This is My body given up for you”, and prayed a French hymn “a new day begins, a day received from you ... we place it in your hands as it will be ...” and at the end, added, “I have no other offering than the offering of my life!”, he says, adding that his request for a Bible was denied.
The Cleric says that from May this year, he was allowed to follow the commentary on Sunday's Gospel on Vatican Radio. One day, he says, he was lucky enough to follow Pope Francis’ Homily.
“I put my ear closer and tuned the radio better, and I found myself at the beginning of the Pentecost Day Mass in communion with the Pope, the Church and the world. I said to myself, today I am in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and at the same time I am on a mission in Africa,” he recalls, recounting what he describes as one of the most emotional experiences during his captivity.
With the past behind him, including the psychological torture and a death threat, Fr. Maccalli expresses gratitude to those who continually kept him in their prayers until he was released.
And as for his abductors, the Cleric says, “I still feel very sad for these young people, indoctrinated by propaganda videos that they listened to all day long. They don't know what they are doing!”
He adds, in reference to the members of the Islamist group that kept him captive, “I have no hard feelings towards my kidnappers and jailers. I have prayed for them and I continue to do so.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa