Three nuns and three women accompanying them have been released, after being held in captivity for almost two months.
The women were kidnapped from their residence in Nigeria on November 13, 2017 with their abducters escaping on a speedboat to an unknown location.
The Sisters, who are members of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus (EHJ) convent in Edo state, in the south of Nigeria.
The convent was later hit with a $55,000 dollar ransom for the return of the six women, however the mother superior at the convent, Sr Agatha Osarekho, state that no money was ever given. “No ransom was paid,” she said. “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.
“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.”
Sr Agatha said the three women accompanying the Sisters that were also kidnapped will be helped to ‘settle down’ prior to being reunited with their own families.
“Their families have been anxious,” she said. “So, we will get the sisters to speak with them.”
The kidnapped women were freed during a police operation but the gunmen got away, according to police commissioner Johnson Kokumo, who noted they ‘closed in on the daredevil kidnappers’, giving them ‘no other option than to release the reverend Sisters’.
“We thank all the men and women of goodwill who worked and prayed tirelessly behind the scenes for the release of our Sisters,” Fr Kevin Oselumhense Anetor, of Uromi Diocese, said on Facebook. “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.
“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 incident rocked the Catholic Church in Nigeria, as Archbishop Alfred Martion of Lagos considered whether authorities were making enough effort to secure the nun’s release.
The Nigerian Bishops’ Conference also released a statement on the kidnappings in December last year, writing that ‘agents of darkness continue to hold our people to ransom through kidnapping, armed robbery and other dehumanising activities’.
They were supported by Pope Francis, who noted he was praying both for them and ‘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 Pope said on December 17.
Nigeria has seen a number of kidnappings of clergy and the consecrated religious, which has grown to be a means of income for abducters.
63-year-old Fr Maurizio Pallù, an Italian priest serving in Nigeria, was taken in October by kidnappers in the country’s Benin City, while on September 1 Fr Cyriacus Onunkwo was abducted by gunmen from his car in a village in Imo state and Fr Jude Udokwu was attacked by the same group earlier in the day but was able to escape.
A communique was released following the annual general and meeting of Justice Development and Peace Commissions/Caritas Nigeria in 2017, urging the government to make more effort to halt clergy and religious kidnappings.
Church leaders noted their sadness at the ‘re-emergence of kidnappings across the country’, and as a result clergy and religious were becoming an ‘endangered species’.
“Unfortunately, even the poor among us are no longer safe,” they said. “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.”