YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Three Catholic nuns and three women accompanying them, kidnapped in Nigeria on Nov. 13, 2017, were released after spending nearly two months in captivity.
The religious sisters were members of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus (EHJ) Convent in Edo state, in the south of the country.
The kidnappers had taken the women from their residence, and fled via speedboat to an unknown destination.
The convent later received a ransom demand for $55,000, but the mother superior, Sister Agatha Osarekho said no money was ever handed over.
“No ransom was paid. Well, we know that [the police] did their best because they are aware. They had to do their work. The most important thing is that our sisters are out,” the mother superior said.
“We are happy; to God be the glory! One was released [Saturday] and the others were also released today [Sunday]. They are fine and are receiving some medical checkup in a hospital,” she said.
She said the other three women with whom the sisters were kidnapped will be helped to “settle down” before they are reunited with their families.
“Their families have been anxious. So, we will get the sisters to speak with them,” she said.
The police commissioner, Johnson Kokumo, said the captives were freed during a police operation, but the gunmen escaped.
“Police operatives closed in on the daredevil kidnappers and they had no other option than to release the reverend sisters,” Kokumo told local media.
“We thank all the men and women of goodwill who worked and prayed tirelessly behind the scenes for the release of our sisters. We thank the mother superior of the EHJ for her patience and strong will, and her sisters for their solidarity during these days of trial,” said Father Kevin Oselumhense Anetor, from the Diocese of Uromi.
“We thank the Catholic Archdioceses of Benin and Lagos for their support and prayers, and indeed the Catholic and non-Catholic world, for their vigilance and prayers. We also thank YOU, yes YOU, for your active participation on social media. Your thousands of comments, shares, and prayers went a long way,” the priest said in a Facebook post.
The kidnapping had left the Church in Nigeria broken, with Archbishop Alfred Martin of Lagos wondering whether the authorities were working hard enough to secure the release of the nuns.
The Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria issued a statement on Dec. 15 saying that “agents of darkness continue to hold our people to ransom through kidnapping, armed robbery and other dehumanizing activities.”
Pope Francis had joined the bishops in prayer saying that he was praying for them, “and for all the other people who find themselves in this painful situation.”
“From the heart, I unite myself to the appeal of the Bishops of Nigeria for the liberation of the six Sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, kidnapped roughly a month ago from the convent in Iguoriakhi,” the pontiff said on Dec. 17.
Kidnapping of religious leaders for ransom has become a steady source of income for kidnappers in Nigeria.
In October, a 63-year-old Italian priest, Father Maurizio Pallù, was kidnapped in Benin City, Nigeria.
On September 1, Father Cyriacus Onunkwo was kidnapped from his car by gunmen in the village of Orlu in the state of Imo in southern Nigeria. Earlier that day, another priest – Father Jude Udokwu – was also attacked by kidnappers in the same village, but managed to escape.
After the 2017 Annual General Meeting of Justice Development and Peace Commissions/Caritas Nigeria, a communique was released asking the government to do more to stop the kidnapping of clergy and religious.
The Church leaders said they were saddened by the “re-emergence of kidnappings across the country,” noting that priests and religious sisters “are gradually turning into endangered species.”
“Unfortunately, even the poor among us are no longer safe. This has brought tension as no one is safe on our roads and at home. We therefore call on the government whose primary responsibility it is to secure lives and property to declare a state of emergency on this very critical security issue,” they said.