, 10 November, 2020 / 10:37 PM
Fr. Pier Luigi Maccalli, the Catholic missionary Priest who was freed last month in Mali after he was kidnapped in Niger in September 2018 was evidently overcome with emotion when he had an audience with Pope Francis earlier this week following his release.
In a video of the emotional meeting that was shared in a Monday, November 9 EWTN Vatican Tweet, the Italian-born Cleric looked different.
In a previous media interaction after he was released, the member of the Society of African Missions (SMA) still had the long beard that had grown through the two years of captivity. But the beard was gone when he appeared before the Holy father to narrate once more his harrowing experience at the hands of his abductors in West Africa.
Donning a white shirt and black jacket, he knelt as he joined in a prayer that was led by the Holy Father during the November 9 meeting.
The 59-year-old missionary Cleric who was freed October 8 alongside three other hostages later described the meeting with the Holy Father as moving and simply “very, very beautiful.”
“I was moved, most of all, telling the Pope about what I lived through and then entrusting to his prayer, above all, the communities I went to and which have now been without a missionary presence and a Priest for more than two years,” Fr. Maccalli told Vatican News.
When he met Pope Francis, he extended his hand in greeting but the Holy father kissed it, an action that the Cleric described as pleasant and unexpected.
Fr. Maccalli’s liberation in Northern Mali from the hands of jihadist fighters believed to be linked to al-Qaeda followed a two-year absence after he was kidnapped by unknown people the night of 17 September 2018 in his mission at Bomoanga in Niger, near the Burkina Faso border.
He had been a missionary in Ivory Coast for several years before being commissioned to Bomoanga parish in Niger’s Archdiocese of Niamey, which has been described as “an isolated and neglected area because of the lack of roads, communications and infrastructure.”
He described the harrowing experience of his abduction where he hungered for communion with the people of God, but where he also chose to remain a missionary in chained feet.
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 said 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.”
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.
He also recalled, in the interview, how, one day when the jihadists allowed him to listen to the radio, he was overjoyed 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 recalled, recounting what he describes as one of the most emotional experiences during his two-year captivity.
Fr. Maccalli said that in the November 9 meeting he had asked the Holy Father to keep the Catholic Church in Niger in his prayers and that the Pope listened very attentively.
The missionary said he also thanked Pope Francis for his prayers, together with those of the Church, for his liberation.
According to the Italian Cleric, Pope Francis replied by saying that the Church had supported him, but he too had supported the Church.
“I had no words in the face of his; me, a little missionary and he who said this to me... I really have no words,” the priest said.
In a report shared with ACI Africa, the SMA Priest returned to his home in Crema, Italy, where his family awaited him.
His sister, Clementina Maccalli told InBlu Radio at the time of her brother’s release, “We are living an immense joy and a great happiness. After a long time waiting, I can finally hug him again.”
“His mission is to take the Gospel where it is not yet known,” she said, adding that, during his kidnapping, “hope has never failed. We have a lot of faith and this has helped us.”
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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