Fears are growing that a priest who disappeared in Mali has been abducted by Islamist militants.
German-born missionary priest Father Hans-Joachim Lohre went missing on Sunday (20th November) after celebrating Mass at a convent in Bamako, the country’s capital.
Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) was told by the Missionaries of Africa – popularly known as the White Fathers – that everything points to him having been kidnapped.
Father Lohre’s car was found abandoned and a cross which he always carried with him was lying on the ground.
The priest, who worked in Mali for more than 30 years, is an ACN project partner who has taken part in several events organised by the charity.
Before his disappearance, he told ACN that missionaries faced potential danger from Mali’s growing Islamist militant groups.
Father Lohre said: “We are an easy target, but we have a mission”, adding “we have been told that the jihadists are watching us.”
But he stressed that concerns about his personal safety did not keep him from continuing his ministry in Mali.
He said: “The question is given to us in the Gospel, ‘Who do you say I am?’, that is the meaning of our lives, and we see that what is important is not how long we live, or how little or how much we achieve, but whether what we do has meaning and can make the world a better place.”
Extremist groups have overrun swathes of central Mali, imposing Shari‘a in the areas under their control.
Islamists have also abducted foreign-born Christians, including Swiss missionary Beatrice Stoeckli, who they killed, and Colombian Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez, who was eventually released.
Father Lohre described the problems being faced in the country at an event organised by ACN (Switzerland) earlier this year.
He said: “The jihadists come in groups, on motorcycles, and the local communities have to make deals with them. They are forbidden from ringing church bells and drinking alcohol, and women are forced to wear the veil.”
Father Lohre promoted dialogue between Christians and Muslims – and ACN-backed projects he was involved with, helping Christians become religiously literate about Islam.
He said: “At the moment there are very strong fundamentalist currents in Mali, but most people just want to live in peace.
“Therefore, it is crucial that we foster good relations with the Muslims around us.
“We provide Christians with deep knowledge about Islam, so that when they return to their communities, they can help to build bridges and make contact with the surrounding mosques.”
Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of ACN (International), said the charity was gravely concerned by the priest’s disappearance, and asked for prayers for his safety.
He said: “Our foundation supported his mission over the past few years, and now he needs our prayers and solidarity.”
Adding: “Besides prayers, ACN also calls on the international community to do everything it can to improve the situation caused by jihadists among the populations of the Sahel, not only in Mali, but also in neighbouring countries.
“What is happening is a tragedy, an open wound for the world.”
- Mali is one of the 24 countries covered in ACN’s Persecuted and Forgotten? report, which was released ahead of #RedWednesday. To order your copy, please click here.