How Colombian Catholic Nun Touched Hearts of Her Kidnappers in Mali

Sr. Gloria Cecilia Narváez, the Colombian Catholic Nun who was released in October last year in Mali after spending close to five years in captivity. Credit: ACN

Sr. Gloria Cecilia Narváez, the Colombian Catholic Nun who was released in October last year in Mali after spending close to five years in captivity has recalled the testimony she gave about her faith that touched the hearts of her kidnappers.

In an interview with Catholic Pontifical and charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Colombia, Sr. Gloria narrated the abuse she underwent during her captivity, with her captors physically assaulting her every time she stepped out of the camp to pray.

She recalled that on one occasion, the men who held her hostage came to her rescue, defending her faith when one of them hit her and insulted her about her God.

“Let’s see if that God gets you out of here,” the member of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate recalled the words that one of the men assigned to guard her used after he hit her. 

She adds, recalling what the man said, “He spoke to me using very strong, very ugly words… My soul shuddered at what this person was saying, while the other guards laughed out loud at the insults. I approached him and told him in all seriousness: ‘Look boss, please, show more respect to our God; He is the Creator, and it really hurts me a lot that you talk about Him that way.’”


The other men are said to have stared at each other, “as if touched by the force of this simple but forceful statement,” ACN Colombia narrates.

One of the men is then said to have defended Sr. Gloria, saying, “She is right. Don’t talk about her God like that.” At this utterance, the men are said to have stopped verbally tormenting the Catholic Sister for that day.

Sr. Gloria was kidnapped in Southern Mali in 2017 and was released on 9 October 2021 after four years and eight months of efforts to secure her safe release.

Armed men had kidnapped her in Karangasso, about 90 miles South of the town of San, near the border with Burkina Faso, on 7 February 2017.

The men forced her to hand over the keys to the community’s ambulance. The vehicle was later found abandoned. Three other Catholic Nuns were present at their house but escaped.

More in Africa

The kidnappers were going to take the youngest Nun, but Sr. Gloria reportedly volunteered to take her place.

The Colombian Nun had served in Mali for 12 years before her abduction.

Her community administers a large health center in the West African country, as well as a home for some 30 orphans.

In the interview that ACN published on Wednesday, January 5, Sr. Gloria reminisced about her apostolate in Mali before the kidnapping, the abuse she endured in captivity, and what kept her going.

From the convent in Pasto, Colombia, where she arrived at the end of November to meet her family and continue her journey to full recovery, Sr. Gloria also shared how she sometimes escaped from the camp to find time to worship God on top of her voice, many time getting a beating and emotional abuse for it.


Sr. Gloria was held with two other women, a Muslim and a Protestant. ACN reports that in her work as a missionary, the Catholic Nun lived tolerance and respect for others, clearly aware that this was essential to perform her work.

“If we respect the freedom of others to live their religion, then we can receive that same respect,” she told ACN Colombia, adding that she, however, did not receive any respect when she was abducted.

Even then, her captivity provided her with an opportunity to firmly defend her faith, she told ACN Colombia, and explained, “They asked me to repeat bits of Muslim prayers, to wear Islamic-style garments, but I always let it be known that I was born in the Catholic faith, that I grew up in that religion, and that for nothing in the world would I change that, even if it cost me my life.”

On several occasions, the Catholic Nun nearly met her death when she defended her faith, she recalled, adding that she received divine protection when she surrendered her situation to God.

The Colombian Nun told ACN that on at least five occasions, God or the Blessed Virgin actually intervened to protect her.

(Story continues below)

“On one occasion, for example, a large viper circled several times around the place where she slept without approaching her; on another occasion, a very large and stocky guard suddenly stood in the way of another man who was about to slash her veins,” ACN narrates in the January 5 report.

Sharing her Congregation’s mission in Africa, the Catholic Nun said, “The Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate have been in Mali for more than 25 years. One of our main concerns is the empowerment of women, with special emphasis on literacy, because in that country education is practically non-existent for them.”

To this end, local women are taught basic farming techniques and sewing, so that gradually they can boost their independence and become self-sufficient.

The Colombian Catholic Nun said that health professionals supported them in teaching mothers and fathers what to do in case of pregnancy. This affected men so much “that they even came to us to ask for help so that we could teach them how to do domestic chores and take care of their young children in case the women died,” Sr. Gloria told ACN.

The charity foundation reports that in Mali and other African countries, death by childbirth or just a few days after is commonplace. This prompted the Catholic Nuns to equip mothers with skills to take care of their children.

“The parents entrusted us with the care of their babies, which we did with great pleasure, but we got the parents to commit to their children, visit them frequently, and spend time with them,” said the Colombian missionary Nun.

ACN reports that the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate assimilated the Malian culture, making themselves available and spending time with and talking to people.

The Catholic foundation says in reference to the Missionary Congregation’s relationship with the Malian people, “They met with them at any time of the day or night, listened to them, tried to help them with their problems, taught them to deal with children’s minor ailments. They even planned evenings, putting on plays, singing and dancing shows, which were also attended by some Muslim village chiefs.”

“In Mali, about 90 per cent of the population is Muslim. Sr. Gloria lived in the north of the country,” ACN reports, and adds, “Families welcomed them into their homes and shared their food with them. At the end of Ramadan, for example, they were invited to celebrate in their homes and there was always friendliness.”

In the interview with ACN Colombia, Sr. Gloria expressed her readiness to go back “to Africa or to anywhere God wants”, where she said missionaries are needed.

The Catholic Nun said that she believes that as missionaries, they are called to meet all the needs of “the brothers and sisters who suffer the most.”

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.