Catholic priest in Cameroon freed after three days in captivity

Catholic priest in Cameroon freed after three days in captivity

Freed: Msgr. Julius Agbortoko Abbor, vicar general of Cameroon’s Mamfe diocese. / Diocese of Mamfe.

Mamfe, Cameroon, Sep 2, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).

A Catholic diocese announced on Wednesday that kidnappers had freed a priest seized in Cameroon’s restive Anglophone region.

In a statement circulated on Sept. 1, Fr. Sebastine Sinju, chancellor of the Diocese of Mamfe, said that Msgr. Julius Agbortoko Abbor was released without payment of a ransom, reported ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

“After three days in captivity, we are glad to announce that our brother and priest, Msgr. Julius Agbortoko Abbor, has been released without any ransom paid,” Sinju said.

Abbor, the vicar general of Mamfe diocese, was abducted from the residence of Bishop Francis Teke Lysinge, the 82-year-old bishop emeritus of Mamfe, at about 6.45 p.m. on Aug. 29.

Announcing the kidnapping on Aug. 30, Sinju said that the priest had traveled to the village of Kokobuma “for a pastoral visitation and the inauguration of the presbytery of the parish.”

Around 30 minutes after he returned to his residence, “some young men who identified themselves as separatist fighters bumped into the Major Seminary compound and made their way straight to the residence of Bishop Lysinge,” the chancellor said.

“While there, they noticed the presence of the vicar general, whom they considered younger and stronger than the frail bishop emeritus.”

The kidnappers, believed to be armed separatists, demanded a ransom of more than 20 million francs CFA (around $36,000).

“We thank God for his release. We thank all those who joined us to pray for his unconditional release and for us in these turbulent days,” Sinju said in a statement dated Aug. 31.

“We thank all our priests, the faithful and Father’s biological family for their firm faith in God. We appreciate the assistance of everyone who showed concern.”

The chancellor of Mamfe diocese praised Abbor “for his bravery and tenacity in the past three days.”

Separatists have operated in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon — the Southwest and Northwest — since 2016, when the Anglophone region was plunged into crisis after a protest by lawyers and teachers turned violent.

Armed separatists declared that they were establishing the Federal Republic of Ambazonia, an independent state comprising the Southwest and Northwest Regions. They have carried out abductions and attacks while battling government forces.

Separatists reportedly kidnapped another priest of the Mamfe diocese in May 2020. Fr. Christopher Eboka was freed after 10 days of captivity.

In November last year, fighters also kidnapped Cardinal Christian Tumi, freeing him a day later.

Twelve other people, including Fon Sehm Mbinglo II, the traditional chief of the Nso tribe, were kidnapped alongside the cardinal.

Separatists were also responsible for abducting Archbishop Cornelius Fontem Esua, the now retired archbishop of Bamenda, in June 2019 and Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo in August 2019.

Sinju called on Catholics in the Mamfe diocese to pray for the west-central African nation, which has a population of around 25 million people and is bordered by Nigeria, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea.

“As we rejoice and thank God, let us join our voices and pray for peace and justice in our nation,” the priest said.

A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner, written by Magdalene Kahiu. It has been adapted by CNA.