Vatican City — From Cameroon to northern Italy and from Montreal to the Vatican, statements expressing "great joy" accompanied the news that a Canadian sister of Notre-Dame and two Italian missionary priests were released unharmed almost two months after being kidnapped in northern Cameroon.
"It is with great joy that the sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame have learned . . . of the release of Sister Gilberte Bussiere," said a June 1 statement from the Montreal-based order. Sister Bussiere, 74, had been working in Cameroon since 1979.
The Diocese of Vicenza, Italy, also put out a statement expressing "great joy" that Frs. Giampaolo Marta and Gianantonio Allegri had been freed. Fr. Marta had been in Cameroon seven years, while Fr. Allegri joined him at the mission in 2013.
The three were kidnapped April 5 in Tchere, about 20 miles from Cameroon's border with Nigeria. Members of the Boko Haram terrorist group, active in Nigeria, were suspected of taking the three from their parish in Tchere.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, happened to be visiting Cameroon when the three missionaries were released the night of May 31-June 1. He was able to meet them in Yaounde, Cameroon's capital, before flying back to Rome.
"We thank God for this moment of joy," the cardinal told Fides, the congregation's news agency. The three "were excited and happy and, I must say, in good physical and psychological condition. Certainly the fact that they were always together helped them to support each other."
He called their release "a welcome surprise and, above all, a grace."
Asked about the kidnappers' identity, Cardinal Filoni told Fides, "the investigation is in the hands of the civil authorities."
Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told Vatican Radio that Pope Francis had been following the case from the beginning. "We thank the Lord that it ended positively, but at the same time we continue to pray and work for an end to every form of violence, hatred and conflict throughout Africa and around the world."
A brief statement from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops June 2 echoed the Vatican's satisfaction that the three church workers were safe and in good health.
In addition, Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, conference president, asked for prayers for others who remain victims of abduction, violence and hatred in conflict zones in Africa and around the world.