MALI: Islamist captors beat nun for praying

With picture of Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez (© Aid to the Church in Need)
With picture of Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez (© Aid to the Church in Need)

A religious Sister abducted by extremists with links to Al Qaeda has spoken about her more than four-and-a-half years of abuse while a prisoner.

Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez, who was kidnapped in February 2017 and released in October 2021, described being maltreated by her captors, saying she would be beaten for praying – or sometimes for no reason.

She told ACN at these times she would pray: “My God, it is hard to be chained and to receive blows, but I live this moment as you present it to me… And in spite of everything, I would not want any of these men [i.e. her captors] to be harmed.”

Sister Gloria of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate tried to be alone so she could recite the psalms and other prayers, but was punished for doing so.

On one occasion, one of the extremists’ leaders was enraged by this and not only hit her but insulted God, saying: “Let’s see if that God gets you out of here.”

She said: “He spoke to me using very strong, very ugly words… My soul shuddered at what this person was saying, while the other guards laughed out loud at the insults.

“I approached him and told him in all seriousness: ‘Look boss, please, show more respect to our God. He is the Creator, and it really hurts me a lot that you talk about him that way’.

“Then, the captors stared at each other, as if touched by the force of this simple but forceful statement, and one of them said: ‘She is right. Don’t talk about her God like that.’ And they shut up.”

During her captivity she was encouraged to embrace Islamic practices by her abductors.

She said: “They asked me to repeat bits of Muslim prayers, to wear Islamic-style garments, but I always let it be known that I was born in the Catholic faith, that I grew up in that religion, and that for nothing in the world would I change that, even if it cost me my life.”

She stressed the need for mutual tolerance between members of different faiths: “If we respect the freedom of others to live their religion, then we can receive that same respect.”

But she added: “More than words, however, we have to defend the faith with the witness of life. We are called to be a witness of our faith.”

Sister Gloria believes, on a number of occasions, she was saved by divine intervention.

She described seeing a large viper circling the place where she was sleeping several times, but it never came near her – and on another occasion, a camp guard suddenly intervened when a man was threatening to stab her.

Sister Gloria said her time in captivity allowed her to reflect on her vocation: “It was an opportunity God gave me to see my life, my response to him.”

She said every day she was held by the extremists provided a new opportunity to thank God: “How can I not praise you, bless you and thank you, my God, because you have filled me with peace in the face of insults and mistreatment.”

Colombian national Sister Gloria was seized by militant group Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin on 7th February 2017 from the village of Karangasso, near Koutiala city, in the southerly Sikasso Region, where she was ministering to the poor.