“We are so grateful to God for the release of our sisters without harm.”
These words convey the relief and happiness of the Congregation of the Sisters of Jesus the Savior, as they reflect on the happenings of the past days, in the wake of the abduction and subsequent release of some of their members.
Sisters Johannes Nwodo, Christabel Echemazu, Liberata Mbamalu and Benita Agu were seized by kidnappers around the Okigwe-Umulolo area in Abia State, Nigeria on Sunday morning, as they were on their way to Mass.
Two days later, a statement signed by the Secretary-General of the Congregation announced the joyful news of the unconditional and safe release of the four nuns.
This latest kidnapping incident brings to the fore once again, the security challenges of Africa’s most populous nation, as the Nigerian government and security agencies battle to ensure the protection of the lives and properties of its citizens.
Kidnapped on their way to Mass
Sr. Ascensio Madukaji, SJS, the Director of Missions for the Congregation in Rome, spoke to Vatican News in an interview, reflecting on the circumstance of the abduction and release of the religious nuns.
“It was a terrible situation,” said the religious sister, recalling the general emotion when they received the news of the kidnap of the four nuns.
She explained that the sisters had been on their way to join another colleague’s Thanksgiving Mass for the profession of her final vows which had taken place the day before. Shortly after they set out, they were accosted and abducted by men she called “Fulani herdsmen.”
“They were taken into the bush,” Sr. Madukaji recounts. “They spent two complete days… without food, without drink, without anything.”
Release of the nuns, prayers
Kidnappings for ransom are not uncommon in Nigeria, as bandits, armed individuals and, more recently, nomadic herdsmen have been linked to the crime of taking persons against their will.
In this case, the sister says that the abductors, with pecuniary motives behind their actions, got in contact with some sisters and family members of the kidnapped sisters in hopes of getting a ransom.
In a bid to discourage the worrying uptick of kidnappings in the country, Nigerian bishops have discouraged the payment of any amount of money in ransom for kidnapped priests and religious, expressing concern that it may encourage criminality.
Sr. Madukaji stressed the important role of prayer in the ordeal of the sisters, noting that the Congregation immediately turned to God in prayer, imploring Our Lord, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the quick and safe return of their sisters.
“We prayed. In fact, we prayed chain Rosaries, 24 hours - night and day. Adoration. Rosary. And then people all over the world were praying for us. We know that,” she said.
Fortunately, two days later, the four sisters were released from the hands of their captors.
In light of the worrying trend of insecurity , Sr. Madukaji called on government and security to agencies to “sit up” in their task of assuring the protection of Nigerians, and urged authorities to continue in their fight against insecurity in the West African Nation.
The religious sister then offered her profound gratitude to all who reached out to the congregation to express their closeness as the news of the sisters’ abduction spread. She also seized the opportunity to acknowledge the founder of the congregation, Very Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Matthew Paul Edeh, C.S. Sp.
“We thank them for being with us all throughout this period, because it was a terrific moment,” she said.
Sr. Madukaji also noted that in the thick of the difficult time, all hands were on deck as the Congregational Superior and even members of other congregations joined them in solidarity and prayers.
In recent times, Nigeria has seen several instances of violent killings and forceful abductions of citizens, some of them targeting priests, religious and leaders of other religious denominations.
In 2022 alone, several priests have been kidnapped and some killed. The horrific attack on worshippers at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, on Pentecost Sunday which left over 40 dead, shocked both religious and civil parties within the country.
In May, the prelate of the Methodist Church in Nigeria was kidnapped and subsequently freed a day later, after paying a ransom of one hundred million Naira.
On 25 June, Fr. Vitus Borogo of the Kaduna archdiocese was killed by armed individuals at Prison Farm, Kujama, along Kaduna-Kachia road, Chikun Local Government Area.
The following month, on 15 July, Fr. John Mark Cheitnum, a priest of the Kafanchan diocese, was brutally killed by his kidnappers, while another priest who was abducted with him at the same time luckily escaped with his life.
The Nigerian government has repeatedly vowed to put an end to the security problem.
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
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