A Driverless Car: Twenty-three months in captivity

Fr. Pierluigi (Gigi) Maccalli, SMA priest missionary, is the pastor of the catholic church in Bomoanga, Republic of Niger, near the border with Burkina Faso.
He was kidnapped from his mission twenty-three months ago, on September 17, 2018. Since then he is in captivity. Last march, his captors published a video showing him alive. He appears alongside Nicola Ciacco, who was reportedly kidnapped in Mali in 2019.
We ask all our SMA friends and supporters to keep praying for the safe release of our SMA priest.

A Driverless Car: Twenty-three months in captivity

For over a year, Fr. Gigi’s car was parked in the inner courtyard of Niamey Cathedral. Using it would have seemed like a lack of respect for Fr. Gigi, who had left it next to his room, a Toyota pickup parked right next to the door. It was “his” white Toyota 4-wheel drive, license AD 9627, Republic of Niger (RN), and naturally, Niamey. He was expected back one day or another, this week or next, this month or the next one. A year after he was kidnapped, the SMA community decided to begin using his car again and preparing it for his eventual return.

At first it was not easy to drive that pickup. Gigi used it to go to Niamey’s SMA House every other week, for supplies and other errands.  He mostly came back with the car full of the sick: children, young people, the elderly, and their caretakers. He often accompanied them to the hospital and then to the Sisters of Charity, who welcomed the sick in their clinic, doors always open. Knowing of his travels to visit the villages, receiving and bringing good news of peace and everyday ideals, it was not easy to drive his car. The car gave the impression of knowing the road, especially the dirt roads of the villages.

Gigi had made the Toyota like a van with two emergency wheels and padded seats: there was room for everything and everyone. He had an iron crate welded onto the roof to carry all the luggage: that of the people as well as his water cans, the gas bottles for the kitchen of Bomoanga, live animals for the inevitable gifts, and medicines for the clinic. Above all, in the well-organized trunk, he carried what was not always seen: the hope of healing for the sick. That’s why it was not easy to drive his car, but also why leaving it parked in the city seemed almost to profane it.

Twenty-three months have passed since his kidnapping. In the parish and the area, things have not improved at all. A few days ago, a village was surrounded, attacked, and looted. Two people lost their lives. It is feared that this area, like others, will be abandoned by the locals, becoming a no man’s land and therefore a space for the actions of criminals and terrorists who live in the neighboring countries.

Ever since Fr. Maccalli’s abduction, his Toyota pickup truck has never returned to the village. It circulates in the city, in the capital Niamey, where a relative and precarious calm still prevails. At first it was not easy to drive his car, so I let him drive me.

Mauro Armanino, Niamey, August 17, 2020

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