ROME — Pope Francis assured members of the Society of African Missions that he, too, was praying for their confrere, Father Pierluigi Maccalli, kidnapped in Niger in September.
The pope also assured them of the Holy See’s “concern and attention concerning this worrying situation.”
The pope made his comments during an audience May 17 with members of the Society of African Missions, who were in Rome for their general assembly April 30-May 24.
The pope praised them for their “great work of evangelization” in Africa, especially in remote rural areas, and their efforts helping migrants.
He encouraged them to persevere and continue “to serve children, vulnerable people, and victims of war, illness, and human trafficking. Because choosing (to help) the least — those whom society rejects and casts aside — is a sign that concretely manifests the presence and concern of the merciful Christ.”
The pope said, “I thank you for your missionary zeal — steeped in courage, which leads you to go out and offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ,” even if such efforts also put their lives at risk.
“For this reason, I would like to join in your prayers” for Maccalli, he said. The then-57-year-old priest was abducted from his home in southern Niger near the border with Burkina Faso Sept. 17.
The Italian-born priest had been serving in Niger for more than 10 years and, before that, in Ivory Coast. Members of the order have told Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, that they believe Maccalli is still alive, but they do not know where he is.