After a year, Mali church leaders still hope for release of abducted nun

Mali's Catholic Church said it hopes to obtain the release of a kidnapped Franciscan nun after her Islamist captors released a video showing her pleading with the pope to help save her life.

"Although we've had no contact so far, we've set up a special office, with telephone and WhatsApp connections, hoping her abductors will explain how she can be freed," said Msgr. Noel Bernard Coulibaly, Caritas director in Mali's southern Sikasso Diocese.

"Despite the passage of time, we're still praying daily for her. But we also count on negotiations to secure her release in coming weeks — for her sake and that of her family, and for all those caught up in this drama."

The priest spoke after Sr. Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argoti, a Colombian member of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, was shown pleading for her life in a video released via a Muslim news agency in North Africa.

In a Feb. 2 interview with Catholic News Service, Coulibaly said the diocese had received a copy of the video. He said local Catholics were relieved to know the 51-year-old nun was still alive but were "in a state of anguish" about her return.

"We hope there will be further developments, now the hostage-takers have given this signal," Coulibaly said.

Narvaez has been held by Nusrat al-Islam since February 2017. Last year, Fernando Murillo, director of Colombia's anti-kidnapping police, told local media they believed the nun was suffering from kidney problems and had a leg injury.

Mali's Catholic officials are staging a prayer vigil Feb. 7, the anniversary of her abduction, in Sikasso.

In Colombia, Narvaez's brother, Edgar, told the news channel Caracol that he had seen the video in which the nun pleads for Pope Francis' intervention.

"It gave me great joy to see that my sister is alive," said Edgar Narvaez, who currently lives in the southwestern province of Narino. "She looks very physically deteriorated, though, and her face looks burned, but thank God she is alive."

Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said Nusrat al-Islam, the insurgent group that kidnapped Narvaez, is seeking a ransom payment. Holguin said the Colombian government is working with nongovernmental and religious organizations in the area to get more information on the nun's whereabouts. Colombia has sent several teams of investigator to Mali to collect intelligence on Narvaez and her location.

"Giving resources to terrorists in exchange for hostages is a complex issue," Holguin said in a news conference. "It's something that most countries are not willing to do."

The video, lasting less than five minutes with a voiceover commentary in English, was published Jan. 29 by al-Akhbar agency. Narvaez refers to Christmas and the pope's Jan. 15-21 visit to Chile and Peru. She pleads with the pope and her Colombian mother superior to intervene.

In a video in July, Narvaez was shown with six other Western hostages.

Colombian Archbishop Jose Ruiz Arenas, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, told Caracol Radio from the Vatican that since the nun was kidnapped, "the church has been very vigilant, not only in the heart and the prayer of the Holy Father, but also in his concern to seek" her release.

The Franciscan Sisters collected more than 90,000 signatures on a petition for her release in May. The sisters said they ended their work with orphans and famine victims after her disappearance.

[Manuel Rueda in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this story.]

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