Religious Missionary Goes on Pilgrimage to Celebrate Freedom from Jihadists in Mali

Fr. Pier Luigi Maccalli. Credit: ACN

Sunday, August 1 was a moment of thanksgiving for Fr. Pier Luigi Maccalli who was held in captivity for over two years after he was kidnapped from Niger and released in October last year.

Fr. Luigi went on pilgrimage to the shrine of Fatima in Portugal to thank the Blessed Virgin Mary who he says journeyed with him during his captivity.

“I often say that Mary and the Holy Spirit sustained me during that difficult time when I experienced the dark night of the soul and felt the silence of God. Yet at the same time, prayer gave me strength each day,” Fr. Luigi tells Catholic Pontifical and charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International.

“I owe a debt of gratitude to Mary and especially to Our Lady of Fatima, because my liberation happened on the feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary,” the Italian-born member of the Society of African Missions (SMA) says in the Friday, August 6 report by ACN.

He adds, “I was actually released on 8 October 2020, but it was on the evening before, the evening of 7 October, the feast of the Holy Rosary, that I was given the news, ‘libération. C’est fini - Freedom. It’s over.”


“It was this connection, even if only a symbolic one, that I wanted to honor by coming to Fatima at this time to pray the Rosary and thank Mary for her intercession, to thank God for my liberation, which was, I believe, the fruit of so many prayers – not only mine but those of my family, of my people,” Fr. Luigi says.

ACN reported about Fr. Luigi’s August 1 quest, describing it “a low-key, private pilgrimage” in which the Priest was accompanied by his brother, Fr. Walter Maccalli and Portuguese missionary Sr. Alexandra Almeida, both missionaries in Liberia.

“On the first Sunday of August, Father Pier Luigi Maccalli visited the shrine of Fatima in Portugal to thank Our Lady for his liberation last October, after almost 2 years of captivity at the hands of a jihadist group in Africa’s Sahel region,” ACN reported.

Fr. Luigi says that while in captivity, he made a rosary out of a piece of fabric, which became his “companion” during the confinement.

“I made a rosary out of a piece of cloth, from the head covering that protected my head from the sun, and every day I prayed to Our Lady, Untier of Knots, entrusting the great and knotty problem to her and asked her to intercede for my liberation, for my family, for my community and for peace in the world,” he said.

More in Africa

The 59-year-old Priest was kidnapped by unknown people in his Church the night of 17 September 2018 in Bomoanga, near the border between Niger and Burkina Faso.

Recalling the kidnapping in the August 6 interview with ACN, Fr. Luigi says he suffered most when he was handcuffed and tied to a tree.

“I think the most difficult moment for me was when they handcuffed me. I recall that it was 5 October 2018, after having taken me by motorbike right the way across Burkina Faso. On that particular day we arrived at a cave, and it was there that they handcuffed me to a tree” the Priest narrates, and adds, “It was a very uncomfortable moment. I wept, and I cried out to God, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ I believe they (the terrorists) were well organized, for my abductors in Niger were young Fulani men from an area close to Burkina Faso.”

Fr. Luigi recalls that on the day after he was abducted, the militants made a call, giving orders about where he was to be taken next. “I could see them telephoning. Without doubt they were giving details about me and were given orders to take me in the direction of Mali. When I asked them where they were taking me, they told me, to the Arabs. ‘The Arabs’ were people living in Mali.”

The Priest was delivered to “The Arabs” who in turn took him in a car into the Sahara Desert. A year later, he was taken to another area where there were Tuareg people.


“In the first video they made, on 28 October, they told me to say that the first group that had abducted me were called the ‘Group for the Support of Islam and the Muslims’. This is a group that includes various other associations linked to Al Qaeda,” he says.

The SMA member says that to date, he has never understood the reason for his kidnapping.

“I have asked myself many times why they abducted me, what I had done, what I had said to cause this. I have not been able to recall anything I may have said or done in any way to offend anybody… I believe it was simply that the mission in Bomoanga is an isolated mission station, from which it is easy to abduct someone and then disappear into the forest,” he says of Bomoanga-Niger, the mission from which he was kidnapped. 

The Priest says that in Bomoanga-Niger, there is no one guarding the mission, and explains, “It is a mission open to everyone, as befits our missionary approach of being among the people, close to the people and with people. We are easy prey for unscrupulous people with evil intentions.”

Fr. Luigi who says that he has been in contact communication with members of his Society in West Africa notes that the ongoing violence in the Sahel region poses a difficult time for women and men Religious.

(Story continues below)

“The Church was born of persecution, right from its beginnings. From every trial a new community is born, a new awareness. I’m quite certain that this difficult time for me, for my community and for many communities in Africa that are going through this time of terrorism will bear fruits of peace, fruits of liberty, fruits of new life, and perhaps also a new self-awareness in so many communities that are currently being put to the test,” he says.

“I am in contact with my communities in Africa, and they tell me that they are living very much in this state of insecurity. They are often told not to gather together in groups in order not to give the impression of provocation,” he says, adding that Christians in Niger are forced to pray in their own homes to avoid being targeted.

Some Christians, he says, have been forced to abandon their villages, but that they keep on praying and asking the Priest for support.

“We need to pray together that peace may truly reign and that the Kingdom of God may come with power,” Fr. Luigi says.

He recalls that every day, since his abduction, the people in his Diocese and in the country prayed the Rosary every evening.

“Throughout those 17 months they made pilgrimages, held times of prayer. And I know that people also prayed in other parts of the world. There was a river of prayer. I believe that it was prayer that opened the door to my liberation,” he says in acknowledgement.

Meanwhile, Fr. Luigi has appealed for continued prayers for the release of Colombian-born Sr. Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argoti, who was kidnapped by jihadists in southern Mali on February 7, 2017 and is still missing

“Every day I pray for this Religious Sister, who after four and a half years still remains in the hands of her abductors. I suffered two years of imprisonment, and it was a long time. She has spent twice as long; she is a woman, and she is alone.”

The missionary Priest adds, in reference to the member of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, “I believe that she needs a great many prayers. I ask everyone to pray every day for her and for other prisoners like her, that her liberation may come soon.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.