Benin City, Nigeria: Italian national, Fr. Maurizio Pallù, a Roman Catholic priest, who was abducted Oct. 12, along with two companions, by armed men in Benin City, Nigeria, was freed late in the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 17, according to authorities, and is doing well. Fr. Maurizio Pallù has served as a missionary in Nigeria for three years.
The group of criminals had robbed the priest and others while they were travelling from Calabar to Benin City by car.
“The devil is cowardly, he wants to make us afraid but he has chosen the wrong way because we are poor men, that have fear, but are sustained by the grace of God,” Fr. Maurizio Pallu told Vatican Radio Oct. 18.
Noting that it was actually the second time he’s been abducted in Nigeria, Pallù said that it was more difficult this time, but he saw “the miracles that the Lord did, just great miracles that the Lord did to keep us alive.”
“It means that the Lord has a big plan in this country because the devil is attacking with great force to destroy the work of God in this nation.”
Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano told Radio Capital Wednesday that Pallù had been freed and is doing well. “We await him in Italy soon,” he said according to Italian news agency ANSA.
They had the intercession of the saints and of the Blessed Virgin Mary over these last few days, Pallù said, pointing out that both times he’s been abducted, it has been on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
The first took place Oct. 13, 2016. He was released after only an hour and a half.
This time, he was taken captive on the eve of Oct. 13 and kept in the woods along with a Nigerian student and brother for five days.
According to Vatican Insider, Pallù had called his mother on Sunday night to tell her he was well and would be released soon. Pallù’s mother, Laura Pallù, made the phone call public during a prayer vigil for her son’s release in parish of Santa Lucia La Sala in northern Florence.
The priest said he has been asked to return to Italy for the time being, though he would like to stay in Nigeria if he can.
The devil “is keeping millions of people slaves here with lies, cowardice and corruption,” he said, “and when they allow me to return I will return here very happy and offer my poor person for the evangelization of Nigeria.”
Don Maurizio is 63 years old , originally from Florence, where he joined the Neocatechumenal Way. He has been a lay missionary for 11 years in various countries around the world. Then in 1988 he entered the seminary at Redemptoris Mater in Rome. After having worked as a chaplain in two Roman parishes he was sent to Holland, where he became parish priest in the diocese of Haarlem. He was then transferred to Africa, where he went to work in the Archdiocese of Abuja, Nigeria. He is an “itinerant priest” of the Nazareth Family Foundation for itinerant evangelization.
The state of Edo, of which Benin City is the capital, is an area of high risk abductings. On September 27th Don Lawrence Adorolo, parish priest of the church of San Benedetto in Okpella, was also abducted. Monsignor Gabriel Dunia, bishop of Auchi, condemning the abduction of the priest, called it an “abominable act”, revealed that “the abductors have made themselves available for a ransom from the Church.” But “the Church does not pay redemption,” the bishop said, confirming the line adopted by the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference for a long time to reject any request for ransom by the seizure of priests and religious. These are not religious-related activities, but are often carried out by common crime groups.
In the days before this episode, armed men also abducted Benin City’s director of the Ogba Wildlife Park, with grevious harm to three policemen.
According to the state news media, three other priests were abducted this year in southern Nigeria.
Father Samuel Okwuidegbe, Jesuit , had been taken from strangers on April 18 on the road connecting Benin City to Onitsha and then released on April 22nd.
On June 18, a police blitz freed father Charles Nwachukwu of the Okigwe diocese in the state of Imo (in south-east Nigeria). Father Charles Nwachukwuhad been abducted by five armed men on June 16.
The most dramatic episode is the one that happened on September 1st with the abduction and killing of Father Cyriacus Onunkwo in the State of Imo. His body was found the next day near the village of Omuma.
For more than two years there has been no news of Father Gabriel Oyaka of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, abducted on 7 September 2015.
Another catholic priest Rev. Fr. Timothy Nwanja, who serves at St. Mary’s parish, was abducted by three gunmen at about 8:30pm on Sunday night ( October 16th) in his residence, in Okpokueze Nkomoro community, Imoho Development Centre, Ezza North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. Barely 24 hours after he was abducted, the police in Ebonyi state have rescued him. Also rescued was the cook to the priest who was also abducted along side with her boss.