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Colombian Nun Abducted in Mali Appeals for “a great deal of prayers” in Latest Message

Sr. Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argot, the Franciscan religious sister abducted in Mali in February 2017. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

Sr. Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argot, a Colombian Catholic Nun who has remained in captivity for the last four years following her abduction in Mali has sent a message to her family in which she appeals for hearty prayers for her safe release.

In a message received by her brother Edgar Narváez Argoti, Sr. Gloria says that she is now being held hostage by a different Islamist group from the one that abducted her.

“I send everyone my warmest greetings. May the good Lord bless them and grant them health. I have been held prisoner for four years, and now I am with a new group”, the Colombian Nun writes in a message, which the Pontifical charity organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, cites in a July 9 report.  

She adds, “May they all pray a great deal for me. May God bless them all. I am hopeful that God will help me to regain my freedom. Your loving sister, Gloria.”

The 57-year-old Franciscan Nun who was reportedly abducted by jihadists in 2017 in Southern Mali is said to have sent the letter dated 3 February 2021 via Red Cross International.

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Bishop Jean-Baptiste Tiama of Sikasso Diocese recounted in a past report that the Colombian Nun was following the news on television in their living room in the convent together with her two community members when a group of armed men arrived at around 9:30 p.m. on 7 February 2017.

“They claimed they were jihadists and left with Sr. Gloria who was in charge of the community, after forcibly recovering her identity papers,” Bishop Tiama recounted the events that took place in the Parish of Karangasso where the Catholic Nun ministered.

According to the July 9 report by ACN, the letter which Sr. Gloria wrote in Spanish was delivered to her family in May.

The note which is only 11 lines long is written in the Colombian Sister’s own hand in capital letters in blue ballpoint pen, ACN has reported.

Sr. Gloria identifies the terrorist group currently holding her hostage as the GSIM (Groupe de soutien à l’islam et aux musulmans), the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims.

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The leadership of ACN suggests that GSIM is a group belonging to a jihadist alliance in the Sahel region, with links to Al Qaeda.

Edgar Narváez, a schoolteacher in the town of Pasto, in Colombia, where Sr. Gloria was born told ACN International that in his first note to his sister, the Franciscan Nun, he had informed her that their mother, Rosita Argoti de Narváez, had died in September 2020 at the age of 87.

Their mother, Edgar Narváez recalled, had died “unable to endure the sadness and despair any longer.”

The schoolteacher says that his sister replied months later, and explains, “She sent greetings to the family, said she was in good health, and asked for an appeal to be made to the authorities here in Colombia to take measures to enable her to be released and return to Colombia.”

Speaking about the state of health of his sister, based on the most recent information he had been able to acquire through the Red Cross, Edgar Narváez told ACN that Sr. Gloria is well, although the freeing in October last year of her fellow hostage, the French doctor Sophie Petronin, with whom she had shared her captivity, had affected her greatly.

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“Their separation caused great psychological and mental hardship to my sister, because they had shared four years of friendship. They got on very well together and were very good friends,” he said.

Edgar Narváez told the Pontifical charity that the two women had spent most of their time together in the jihadists’ camp.

He narrated, “They were together for four years, they lived together, ate together, slept in the same tent. They were guarded, but enjoyed a degree of freedom. Up to a point, they were able to go outside and count the stars, the pebbles and the animals passing by, in order to kill time, because they had nothing else to do. They were given breakfast, lunch and tea; there were medicines and a doctor, and they were treated well because they were women, and on account of my sister’s religious habit they showed her great respect.”

ACN leadership reported in February that after her release, Sophie Prétonin reportedly spoke about Sr. Gloria's depressing situation. According to the Catholic charity, the French doctor learned that she would be released in the early hours of 5 October 2020.

One of the two jihadists guarding the hostages told Prétonin, “Take your things, you're leaving”, ACN leadership says in the February 11 report shared with ACI Africa.

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Sr. Gloria, who was possibly next after the French doctor reportedly asked, “And me?”, to which the Jihadist replied, “You stay for later!”

Pétronin has appealed for help in rescuing Sr. Gloria saying, “Something must be done for my roommate, Gloria, because she is not well.”

Following the release of Sophie Petronin, jihadists are said to have transferred Sr. Gloria to the group mentioned in her latest letter, the GSIM, in a place that Edgar Narváez says is “still more remote.”

He says that little by little her sister recovered mentally, and now she is well again.

“She is exhausted physically, very thin, her face burnt brown by the sun and by the climate in the Mali region, but thanks be to God she is well. She is very strong,” he says.

Edgar Narváez tells the charity foundation that an international mission headed by Colombia, which had travelled to Africa with the aim of securing Sr. Gloria’s release, was suspended in June.

He says, in reference to the failed military operation, “They went out in March and came back three months later, although the intention had been to remain until August 2021.”

ACN reports that the rescue mission was suspended due to the worsening situation amid the coup in Mali.

However, Edgar Narváez admitted to ACN that he is “a little saddened and disconcerted” by the news, because “the Colombian group that went to find her has returned, and my sister is still alone… Although we hope they can return to Mali soon.”

He says securing the release of her sister is what he wants more than anything else in the world, and adds, “That is what we all want. That is what my mother longed for; to see her free and to die in peace. But it was not to be.”

Before she was kidnapped, Sr. Gloria had accomplished 12 years of mission in Africa, including her apostolate in Benin and in Mali.