Pope Francis appeals for the release of kidnapped Catholics in Cameroon

Pope Francis speaks in his Angelus address after Mass in Matera, Italy on Sept. 25, 2022. Pope Francis speaks in his Angelus address after Mass in Matera, Italy, on Sept. 25, 2022. | Vatican Media

Pope Francis has appealed for the release of nine Catholics kidnapped in southwest Cameroon.

“I join in the appeal of the bishops of Cameroon for the liberation of some people kidnapped in the diocese of Mamfe, including five priests and a religious sister,” the pope said on Sept. 25.

Speaking in his Angelus address at the end of a Mass in the southern Italian city of Matera, the pope said that he was praying that the Lord may grant peace to Cameroon, where a civil war has been raging since 2017.

Gunmen set fire to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Nchang, Cameroon, on the night of Sept. 16 and kidnapped five priests, a religious sister, a cook, a catechist, and a 15-year-old girl living at the convent, according to Vatican News.

Catholic bishops in Cameroon strongly condemned the attack in a statement that called for the immediate release of the kidnapped Christians.

“We insist on this because this act has now crossed the red line and we must say that ‘enough is enough,’” it said.

Cameroon has been embroiled in a civil war known as the “Anglophone Crisis” in which armed separatists from the Anglophone regions of the country in the northwest and southwest have taken part in an uprising against government forces. Both sides have been accused of atrocities, including the murder and torture of civilians.

The Catholic Church has recently been targeted in “a wave of persecutions against the hierarchy of the Church,” according to the local bishops, who noted that Presbyterian and Baptist churches have also been targeted.

“All kinds of threat messages are sent out against missionaries who have surrendered their lives to work for the people,” the bishops’ statement said.

Bishop Aloysius Fondong Abangalo of Mamfe found that the sacred hosts and the ciborium had been preserved intact in the tabernacle in St. Mary’s Catholic Church after the arson.

In a video released Sept. 21 by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Abangalo is seen genuflecting before the tabernacle in the burned-out church as he retrieved the hosts from the ruins.

The 41-year-old Cameroonian bishop said that the kidnapping and the desecration of the church “dealt a very grievous blow to us as a Church.”

He added: “We did not fail to associate such pain to the saving passion of our Lord Jesus Christ ... the source of our hope and victory.”

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