After four years and eight months of captivity at the hands of Malian jihadist insurgents, Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti, a missionary from Colombia, was freed on Saturday, October 9.
All details of her release have not yet been made public, but in brief comments to Malian television, she expressed her gratitude to the state of Mali for securing her return, and to the local and universal Church for continuing to pray for her during the whole ordeal.
In a message sent to Aid to the Church in Need—International (ACN), Monsignor Jonas Dembele, president of the Malian Bishops Conference, said that “this is a great day for the Church in Mali and for the universal Church, which has been praying for her. Despite the difficulties, God does not forsake his people, he blesses his people and the prayers of the Church helped sustain Sister Gloria. We are sure that she went through very difficult times, but nothing is impossible to God.”
“We have organized thanksgiving masses in the parishes and the dioceses, to thank God and to pray for the people of Mali and for peace in our country,” says Bishop Dembele.
Celebrations at St. Peter’s Basilica
According to a report by the Catholic News Agency (CNA), just one day after her release, Pope Francis welcomed Sister Gloria at St. Peter’s Basilica and blessed her before the Mass which was to launch a worldwide synod.
Celebrations in Colombia
In another message sent to ACN, this time from Colombia, Gloria’s brother Édgar speaks of the reaction to the news in the native country of the religious woman. “I was contacted by the police, they received photographs of her. She is already in the company of the Bishop in Mali, and she is free. Thank you to all journalists and to all people over the world for your prayers for the release of my sister. We are celebrating all over Colombia,” he says.
His enthusiasm is matched by the joy of Bishop Mario Álvarez Gomez, head of the Colombian Bishops’ Committee for Missions. “We thank God for this moment, and congratulate the congregation and the Universal Church, and we especially thank the Holy See, the Apostolic Nunciature in Colombia and the Bishops’ Conference. Glory to God for such a happy moment for the universal Church and for the Church in Colombia,” he said, in a video statement sent to ACN.
Prayers for Peace
Thomas Heine-Gelder, executive president of ACN, also expressed his gratitude to all who, over the past years, have continued to pray for this intention. “At ACN we have always prayed especially hard for those who are unjustly detained. Sister Gloria was in the minds and hearts of our benefactors during all these years, but especially this past year, during Lent, and also during the Red Week for persecuted Christians as well in our campaign to free the captives. Her release, after four years of patient and faithful endurance, encourages us to keep praying for all those who are still hoping for freedom.”
“The liberation of Sister Gloria comes at a time when we pray for peace in the world. We are happy and we pray also for those who held her captive, for their conversion, and we tell them that we want peace, nothing more than peace, and that Christians are interested in working for peace and development,” Bishop Dembele said to ACN.
“There are many difficulties in the world at the moment, especially in the Sahel region and we know that the rainy season this year wasn’t good for everyone, and we need to support and help each other,” he concludes.
Sister Gloria Cecilia was kidnapped on February 7, 2017, as she was meeting with three other Sisters from her religious order, the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate. According to CNA—they were located about 90 miles south of the town of San, near the border of Burkina Faso. A group of armed Islamist terrorists surrounded the group and forced her to hand over the keys of the community’s ambulance which was later found abandoned. Three other Sisters were able to escape the house. The terrorists prepared to take the youngest remaining of them hostage. However, the Colombian, who had served 12 years in Mali—was the oldest, she offered to be taken instead. For some time, she was presumed dead, but a video released in 2019 confirmed that Sister Gloria was still alive. Agenzia Fides reported in September 2020 that Sr. Gloria’s mother died at the age of 87 while awaiting her daughter’s release.
Decades of instability
ACN’s Religious Freedom Report from 2021 states that “the nun’s abduction, together with several attacks on military posts, shows the increasingly brazen nature of the international Islamist terror groups in the Sahel.”
Mali is an overwhelmingly Muslim country, with Christians accounting for less than 3% of the population. Mali has been plagued by conflict for years and Islamist insurgency from the north since 2012. Terror acts are aggravated by ethnic tensions that run across the whole country but are particularly intense between north and south.