Some days ago, the Society of African Missions (SMA) confirmed the kidnapping of Fr. Pierluigi Maccalli in Niger.

“It was a swift and coordinated attack. The abductors were familiar with the movements of Father Pierluigi and had chosen him as their victim.” said  Father Mauro Armanino of the Society of the African Missions (SMA) in Niger to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about his confrere, Italian Father PierluigiMaccalli who was abducted last Monday, from the mission where he worked, some 125 km from the capital of Niger, Niamey.

“Monday evening, Father John arrived here at our regional headquarters in Niamey, visibly traumatised”, Father Armanino told ACN. “He himself lives in another small room, just a few metres away from that of Father Pierluigi, and he told us how the abductors had simply knocked on the door, seized the priest and then left again firing shots into the air.

According to Father Armanino, one possible motive for the abductions is the desire to frighten the Christian community in one of the very small areas of Niger in which Christianity is the majority faith. “The fact that they have now attacked a Catholic priest for the first time shows that there are no longer any limits to their violence”, he suggested.

According to Father Armanino, the attackers were speaking the Peul ethnic language; the French name used to describe the Fulani tribesmen in Niger. Consequently, it is likely that Father Pierluigi is in the hands of the same Islamist pastoralists who have murdered thousands of people including Priests in nearby Nigeria.

In a related development, on Saturday morning, a group of masked men entered the home of Fr.  Abelardo TovalAyesta, pastor of Saint John the Baptist of Sutiaba parish in the Diocese of León, Nicaragua and savagely beat him.

According to the local media, these men struck him hard in the face and ribs, and even tried to suffocate him. And now, the priest is in danger of losing an eye.

The Catholic Multimedia Center (CCM) in Mexico records that Mexico is the most dangerous in Latin America for priests. “For the ninth year in a row, and even though no wars are being fought on our soil, our country is the nation with the highest number of murders of priests,” said priest and journalist Father Sergio Omar Sotelo Aguilar.

He stressed that, in many cases, the death of a priest does not happen by coincidence or because of an unlucky encounter with ordinary criminals. The priest said: “In 80 per cent of the cases, the murderers use a modus operandi that includes everything from defamation to extortion, abduction to torture, kidnapping to murder.”

And in Nigeria, “It was an attempted robbery which ended badly”, according to Fr. Patrick Tor Alumuku, Director of the Social Communications of the Archdiocese of Abuja, when Fr. Jude Egbom who was shot dead on the evening of 10 September in Umuwala, Imo State in southern Nigeria.

“Fr. Egbom was at the barber’s when some bandits entered. We do not know what happened but at some point the criminals fired some shots, killing the priest and seriously injured a seminarian who was with him”, says Fr. Patrick.

All these happenings provoke questions; questions to which no one yet has an answer. It is almost impossible to understand why Priests should be so targeted. Why would people who have given their lives to the service of God for the betterment of humanity be targets of violence? Why should they be attacked by the very people they live for?

Now more than ever, they need our prayers, encouragement and support in every way.

ACN Malta