MALI: Priest freed after more than a year in Islamist captivity

Father Hans-Joachim Lohre.
Father Hans-Joachim Lohre.

A priest, who was kidnapped by extremists in Mali more than a year ago, has been released.

Father Hans-Joachim Lohre (affectionately known as Father Ha-Jo), a German priest who has lived in Mali for three decades, went missing on 20th November 2022 after celebrating Mass at a convent in Bamako, the country’s capital.

His congregation, the Missionaries of Africa (popularly known as the White Fathers) confirmed that he was released last Sunday (26th November) in a statement seen by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The statement, released yesterday (Wednesday, 29th November), said: “Today, we can officially announce that Fr Ha-Jo was indeed released on 26th November 2023.

“We are overjoyed to know that he is finally free after so many months.”

The statement expressed gratitude to those who had contributed to Father Lohre’s release, including the Malian and German authorities.

It continued: “Fr Ha-Jo went directly to his native country, Germany, to be reunited with his family and receive the necessary care.

“Following all these months in captivity, his health must have been affected.

“We hope that he recovers quickly, and that the trauma he suffered does not leave too many after-effects.”

Four months before his abduction, Father Lohre, who is also an ACN project partner, warned that Islamist militant activity was on the rise in Africa.

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.”

He added that he refused to leave the country despite being aware that he was an “easy target” and the extremists were “watching” his congregation.

He explained: “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.”

ACN Executive President Regina Lynch wished Father Lohre a “swift recovery” and said that she hoped “to be able to work further with him, whether in Mali or any other place, as soon as he is fit to return to his mission”.

She added: “Despite our joy at the moment, we must also remember that there are many other men and women who remain in custody or are persecuted for their beliefs around the world, but particularly in Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, and our prayers and thoughts are with them at this time as well.”


With thanks to Filipe d’Avillez