Fr Ha-Jo was aware of the risks to his safety by continuing to work in Mali, but persisted, driven by a desire to improve the situation for the country overall, and to remain with his small Christian community.
A German priest who was kidnapped in Mali over a year ago has finally been freed.
Hans-Joachim Lohre, known affectionately as Fr Ha-Jo, disappeared in Bamako, Mali, on 20 November 2022. He had over 30 years of experience in Mali. His car was found abandoned, and the cross he normally carried with him was on the floor.
News of his release had begun to circulate earlier this week, but his congregation, the Missionaries of Africa, was only able to officially confirm his release on Wednesday, 29 November.
“Today, we can officially announce that Fr Ha-Jo was indeed released on the 26 November, 2023, on the Feast of Christ, King of the Universe, and on the anniversary of the death of our founder, Cardinal Charles Lavigerie”, says the statement, adding: “we are overjoyed to know that he is finally free after so many months.”
ACN project partner
Fr Hans-Joachim was a project partner with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Mali. The pontifical charity had already expressed its deep regret at the time of his kidnapping, and now rejoices in his release.
“We are greatly relieved, and very happy, to hear that Fr Ha-Jo has been released after what must have been a grueling ordeal. Over the years we have worked closely together and ACN has seen first-hand how he always had the best interests of the people of Mali at heart, regardless of their religion. In fact, he was deeply committed to interreligious dialogue in the majority-Muslim country, which he saw as a key to peace and development”, says Regina Lynch, Executive President of ACN International.
“Despite our joy at the moment, however, we must also remember that there are many other men and women who remain in custody or are persecuted for their beliefs around the world, but particularly in Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, and our prayers and thoughts are with them at this time as well.”
“We continue to accompany, with great anguish, the situation of Christians in particular in the Sahel region, where every day Christians are expelled from their villages, starve to death under the pressure of terrorist groups or simply slaughtered because they still want to wear a cross or pray. Just in Burkina Faso and in Niger, according to the local bishops, over 100 causes of beatification are underway because of this new wave of persecution, which goes largely unreported in the Western world”, adds Regina Lynch
An “easy target”
The statement by the Missionaries of Africa – West Africa Province, also expresses thanks to all those who contributed to his release, including the Malian and German authorities, and notes that the local Church in Mali is has also expressed its satisfaction.
“Fr Ha-Jo went directly to his native country, Germany, to be reunited with his family and receive the necessary care. Following all these months in captivity, his health must have been affected”, says the religious order, “we hope that he recovers quickly, and that the trauma he suffered does not leave too many after-effects”.
Jihadist activity has increased in Africa over the past few years, as was noted by Fr Ha-Jo himself during a visit to Switzerland, at the invitation of ACN, in 2022. “The jihadists come in groups, on motorcycles, and the local communities have to make deals with them. They are forbidden from ringing church bells and drinking alcohol, and women are forced to wear the veil”.
The missionary was well aware of the danger he faced in his work every day. “You don’t know when, or where it might happen. As white Europeans, we are easy targets, and we have been told that the jihadists are watching us”. But in several interviews with ACN he also explained why the imminent danger did not keep him from remaining in the country. “The question is given to us in the Gospel, ‘who do you say I am?’, that is the meaning of our lives, and we see that what is important is not how long we live, or how little or how much we achieve, but whether what we do has meaning and can make the world a better place”.
Regina Lynch expresses her hope that Fr Hans-Joachim will recover soon and be able to continue his good work in the near future. “We wish Fr Ha-Jo a swift recovery, and sincerely hope to be able to work further with him, whether in Mali or any other place, as soon as he is fit to return to his mission.”