The bishops of Colombia are asking for prayers for a religious sister who was kidnapped from the home where she served in Karangasso, Mali.
Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, was taken by armed men Tuesday night from her community's house in the West African nation. The men forced Sister Cecilia to hand over the keys to the community’s ambulance, according to the superior, Sister Noemi Quesada. The vehicle was later found abandoned.
All four of the sisters who live in the house were present at the time of the intrusion, but the other three managed to escape. So far, no one has taken responsibility for the kidnapping.
Sister Quesada said the kidnappers claimed to be jihadists. However, Fr. 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 in order to mislead investigators. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that the culprits stole the sisters’ computers, money, and car. Karangasso is in southeastern Mali, quite a distance from the northern areas where jihadist groups, such as Al Qaeda, generally operate.
Fr. 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,” Fr. Dembele said.
The Colombian bishops are currently meeting in Bogota for their 102nd Plenary Assembly. From there they have asked the Colombian Foreign Ministry to keep up its efforts with the international authorities for the safe and prompt release of the sister. The bishops released a statement saying 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.”
Sister 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 take care of them, Sister Noemi told Colombia La FM Radio. They also 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.