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SMA Fathers offer thanks to God for a 'most precious gift'

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The SMA Fathers in Dedham have much to be thankful for this year. One of our Italian confreres, Father Pierluigi Maccalli, 59, who was kidnapped in Niger, at the border with Burkina Faso on the night of Sept. 17, 2018, by jihadist militants believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda, was safely released on Oct. 9, 2020. At the time of his abduction, Father Maccalli was working in the remote parish of Bomoanga in the Diocese of Niamey. The news of his abduction reached international status, including words of comfort and support by Pope Francis. For a year and a half there was no sign or indication of Father Maccalli's whereabouts. "His release -- note his confreres -- was one of the most vivid signs that the Lord sent in this time of suffering and in this Missionary Month." SMA Superior General stated that Father Maccalli's release is a "most precious gift for World Mission Day which we will celebrate next Sunday, October 18." It is a most precious gift that we will celebrate this Christmas as well.

Some months before his release, he was seen in a video in which he appeared with Nicola Chiacchio, an engineer who was also captured while visiting Mali as a tourist in 2019. They were both seated next to each other in the video, beards unkempt and visibly emaciated. Six months later, to everyone's surprise, Father Maccalli was released along with Chiacchio and former Malian Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse as well as a French children's aid organizer, Ms. Sophie Petronin.

After returning to his native Italy, Father Luigi shared some very touching and encouraging words proving himself to be a very prayerful, courageous and faith-filled missionary. These words were beautifully related to us by our superior general, Father Antonio Porcellato, SMA, who said:

"The missionary is the man of the Word, of the announcement. Without a Bible, without the Word of God and the Eucharist, Father Gigi (Pierluigi) said he learned to listen to silence -- the silence of the great Sahara Desert, the inner silence. Like the prophet Isaiah, he could feel the presence of God in silence, in solitude. He found that God always gave him strength."

Porcellato continued, "Gigi shared that in the desert he felt abandoned, he did not know where his captors took him each time. He had doubts also about the role of the SMA: what are they doing to free me? But he never lost hope, trust, the sense of God's presence that accompanied him everywhere."

Father Maccalli also shared that some of the captives converted to Islam more out of convenience in order to receive better treatment while in prison. Father Maccalli, on the other hand, stood his ground and remained calm and convicted in his faith in Jesus Christ and his personal relationship with the Lord.

All he had was himself, Maccalli shared. The morning and evening prayers he learned as a child and a heart full of love and trust in Christ alone. Father Maccalli expressed that after a period of time surrendering to the unknown that he had "no other offer than to offer than the offer of my life."

His resolve to trust the Lord alone is a tremendous witness to all of us today as the world faces the increasing uncertainties of the life we once knew. One of the hallmarks of SMA missionaries is to walk in the daily grind of uncertainties with a firm resolve to seize every opportunity to preach the Word of God. The Lord still shows us through witnesses like Father Maccalli that "nothing is impossible with God!"

The SMA Fathers celebrate and share with you a message of hope. Jesus Christ is our sure hope! As the great missionary, St. Paul excitedly declares to the Romans, that "We boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

Father Pierluigi Maccalli gives each of us all reason to hope against all hope. A true missionary in witness both in word and deed, Father Maccalli shares a life lesson for all of us to learn from. He says, "These two years have taught me to live in the present. I wanted it to end soon, every sunset I would say "hopefully tomorrow." Then when the sun rose I took my rosary and structured my day with the usual daily gestures, day after day. The future belongs to God, now I am enjoying my return home, this is my present."

FATHER DERMOT S. ROACHE IS VICE PROVINCIAL OF THE SMA FATHERS' AMERICAN PROVINCE.



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