Colombia nun freed after 4-year captivity in Mali returns home

Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez had been held by an al-Qaeda-linked group from February 2017 to her release on October 9.

Colombian nun Gloria Cecilia Narvaez arrives at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota [Daniel Munoz/AFP]

A Colombian nun who was kidnapped and held by armed groups in Mali for more than four years has returned home.

Sister Gloria Cecilia Narvaez, 59, was greeted by a dozen fellow nuns, singing “welcome, welcome, our heart welcomes you”, as she arrived at Bogota airport on Tuesday.

She had been taken hostage on February 7, 2017, in southern Mali near the border with Burkina Faso, where she had been working as a missionary. In a letter last year, she said she had been taken hostage by the al-Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM).

She was freed on October 9 following a joint effort by the governments of Mali and Colombia.

Pope Francis greets nun Gloria Cecilia Narvaez at St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican [AFP]

While details of how her release was secured remain unclear, the Colombian police had previously said the group that abducted her had demanded a ransom.

“The Lord gave me the joy of having brothers and sisters,” she said after hugging the waiting nuns. “I thank you with all my heart.”

In Bogata, Narvaez said she tried to convince those who held her in captivity to free other hostages still being held. She also spoke out about victims of abduction in her homeland, which was itself plagued by kidnappings in a conflict that lasted more than half a century.

“I was thinking of all the suffering that people go through when they are kidnapped right here in Colombia, in the whole world, there in Mali, how many people are left,” said the nun, whose mother died in September 2020, awaiting the release of her daughter.

Edgar Narvaez, brother of Colombian nun Gloria Cecilia Narvaez, talks to media after receiving news of his sister’s release in October [File: Leonardo Catro/AFP]

At the airport, Colonel Gustavo Camargo, deputy director of the anti-kidnapping police who had gone to Mali to press for her release, told the nun: “Your strength amazes me.”

Kidnappings have grown increasingly common in Mali in recent years, particularly in the country’s vast northern and central regions, where armed groups have proliferated since 2012 by feeding off of economic insecurity, dwindling natural resources, and pre-existing sectarian tensions.

Several Westerners remain in the hands of armed groups in the country, many of which have pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda or ISIL (ISIS). Those include an American clergyman kidnapped in Niger and a French journalist kidnapped in northeastern Mali in April.

Before returning to Colombia, Narvaez travelled to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis.

Source: News Agencies