BAMAKO, Mali — The Colombian bishops are asking for prayers after a religious sister from Colombia was kidnapped from the home where she served in Mali.
Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, was abducted by armed men Tuesday night, according to officials.
The men forced Cecilia to hand over the keys to the community’s ambulance, according to the superior, Sister Noemi Quesada. The vehicle was later found abandoned.
While all four of the sisters who live in the house in Karangasso were present at the time of the intrusion, the other three managed to escape.
So far, no one has taken responsibility for the kidnapping.
Quesada said the kidnappers claimed to be jihadists. However, Father Edmond Dembele, secretary general of the Malian Bishops’ Conference, acknowledged the possibility that the kidnapping was carried out by bandits who claimed to be jihadists to mislead investigators. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the culprits stole the sisters’ computers, money, and car.
Karangasso is in southeast Mali, removed from the areas where jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda operate, in the country’s north.
— Publimetro Colombia (@PublimetroCol) February 8, 2017
Dembele reported that the government of Mali “has mobilized the armed forces to patrol the area where Sister Cecilia was kidnapped. The people have mobilized to help in the search.”
“We don’t know who kidnapped her. The Civil Guard and the police are investigating. The bishops are also moving to obtain information in the area,” the priest told the Vatican’s Fides News Agency.
The police have arrested two suspects who are being interrogated, he said.
“One of the hypotheses is that the kidnappers have gone to Burkina Faso with her as a hostage. But there is also the possibility that this is a smoke screen. The kidnappers could have headed to the border and then later gone into a wooded area in Malian territory,” Dembele said.
Upon hearing the news, the Colombian bishops – who are meeting in Bogota for their 102nd Plenary Assembly – asked the Colombian Foreign Ministry to keep up its efforts with the international authorities to obtain the safe and prompt release of the sister.
In a statement released on February 8, the Bishop’s Conference invited Colombian Catholics to join in prayer for Cecelia to be released.
The sister, “like many of the disciples of the Lord, has decided to give her life for the service of the most poor and needy,” the bishops said, offering assurances that “with our voice of encouragement in faith and hope, we are accompanying in these moments Sister Gloria Cecilia’s family and every one of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate.”
Cecilia has served in Mali for 12 years. Her community administers a large health center in the country, as well as a home where they care for some 30 orphans between one and two years of age.
The children were all orphaned at birth, and the sisters pick them up and take care of them, along with some moms that work with them, Noemi told Colombia La FM Radio.
In addition to their pastoral ministry, they teach literacy to some 700 Muslim women and are working on a barn project for times of food shortages, as many mothers in the region die from malnutrition.