A prominent cross was removed from a parish last month in Niger, West Africa, two years after the priest there was abducted by jihadists.
The large iron cross was erected high on a hill in 1995, two miles from the village of Bomoanga, in the west of Niger. It had become an important symbol of prayer in the area.
At the top of this hill, two years ago in September 2018, the local parish priest Fr Pierluigi Maccalli had been kidnapped by jihadists.
Fr Maccalli, an Italian member of the Society of African Missions, was well respected in the area by Christians and Muslims alike for his work providing microloans to local projects and his criticism of female circumcision.
The local area is remote and impoverished and lacks adequate water supplies, with locals often gathering around the cross to pray for rain during the drought season. Even local Muslims began to gather there, praying alongside their Catholic neighbours.
Fr Mauro Armanino, another member of the Society of African Missions, told Agenzia Fides that during prayer “it rained heavily every time, before the prayer even ended.”
In mid-May, however, a number of men dismantled the cross, which had been firmly screwed down into concrete. After hearing reports coming from the local chief, Fr Armanino knew that it had been removed by “those whom the press and people call the jihadists, armed and sometimes hooded, who terrify Christians and the people of the villages in the region.”
Because of the expanding activity of jihadists in the area, Christians have been increasingly forced to practice their faith privately in their homes, so Fr Armanino said locals saw the cross as a symbol of freedom, of a “faith lived in the Gospel that liberates.”
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