Fr. Pierluigi Maccalli had spoken out against female genital mutilation
An Italian priest who is a member of the Society of African Missions was kidnapped in the Niger Republic, in an area known for terrorist activity, according to news reports.
Fr. Pierluigi Maccalli was abducted overnight, on the evening of September 17. Authorities have begun investigations to locate and free the priest, according to an AP report.
Missionaries reported that a group of armed men entered the village where the mission was located at 9:30 p.m, kidnapped the priest, taking his computer and his phone, according to Fides news agency.
Fr. Maccalli, whose missionary work involved evangelization, working with schools and medical dispensaries, and training farmers was said to have organized meetings to promote the end of the practice of female genital mutilation and circumcision.
His outspokenness on these topics “may be one of the reasons for the kidnapping, according to local sources,” reported Fides.
According to an AP report, Fr. Maccalli may have been taken across the border to Burkina Faso.
Fr. Mauro Armanino, a missionary priest in Niamey, Niger, told Fides that Fr. Maccalli was “kidnapped by probably active jihadists in the area.”
“The area has been in a state of emergency for some months due to this presence of terrorists from Mali and Burkina Faso”, said Fr. Armanino.
In the past year, Niger and Mali have witnessed an increase in kidnappings and murder of officials. Attacks have been linked to groups with ties to al-Qaida, the Islamic State, and other Islamic extremist organizations.
Fr. Maccalli’s mission is on the border with Burkina Faso, in the Gourmancé area of Niger. According to the Fides report, the Catholic Church of Niger “strongly supports the social works carried out” by the mission in one of Africa’s most impoverished regions.
“Poverty is structural, health and hygiene problems are enormous, there is widespread illiteracy and there is no water and educational facilities. The lack of roads and other means of communication, make the area isolated and forgotten,” reported Fides.