The Way of the Cross of a kidnapped priest in Nigeria

Fr Idahosa Amadasu, from the Diocese of Benin, is one of hundreds of Catholic priests who has been kidnapped and held for ransom by armed bandits in Nigeria over the past few decades. For several days he suffered fear, humiliation, hunger and cold, but he found strength in his faith in Jesus, to endure a difficult situation, from which he did not know if he would emerge alive. This Holy Week, Aid to the Church in Need wants to share his story of faith. (His account has been edited for clarity and length.)

Rev. Fr. Idahosa Amadasu, from the Diocese of Benin, was kidnapped and held for ransom by armed bandits in July 2020 in Nigeria.
Rev. Fr. Idahosa Amadasu, from the Diocese of Benin, was kidnapped and held for ransom by armed bandits in July 2020 in Nigeria.

In July 2020, I was driving along a road that was infamous for kidnappings, when I saw masked men shooting and pointing in my direction. I knew straight away they were kidnappers. I turned off the engine, so that they would stop shooting, and got out of the car with my hands in the air. One of the kidnappers ran in my direction and shouted at me to lie down. I was wearing my cassock at the time, as I was on the way back from my pastoral ministry, having celebrated Mass.

I realised later I had been quite lucky. The driver of the car immediately after mine was shot dead, and if the priest who had wanted to accompany me had been in the car, he would almost certainly have been killed as well.

The kidnappers made me follow them into the bush. When we got to a hill, they realised it was difficult for me to climb because of my cassock. One of the kidnappers opened a bag he had brought from my car, and saw a green chasuble, so he asked me to put it on. I thought of saying that we only wear the chasuble during mass, but I was in a position where I had to obey their orders, provided they were not intrinsically evil. I ended up wearing the green chasuble for the four nights and five days I was in captivity. I tried to find a spiritual meaning for this, seeing it as a way to spiritually participate in the Mass at that time, since I could not do so sacramentally. In any case, it came in useful at night, to protect me from insect bites, and to keep me warm, as it was cold and rainy.

The kidnappers were always masked near me. One of them told me that the fact that I am a priest was no excuse to say I have no money. They frequently threatened me, saying that if I did not cooperate, or my people messed up, I would be killed. I have never experienced my freedom as an adult so restricted. I was not allowed to do anything without asking their permission first. But I was more concerned that they did not take my inner freedom; that the atmosphere of fear did not consume my inner peace. Prayer was my best way to ensure this. I was quite conscious of the fact that it was only when I maintained my inner peace that I will continue to be sane and act rationally, in an irrational atmosphere, where might is right. 

Perhaps for security reasons, they don’t remain in one location. They have totally mastered the bush. They walk purposely in the night and sometimes they used Google Maps to confirm their location. Were it not for the fact that I was used to taking some daily walks, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to trek those long distances with them. I also thanked God that I was wearing shoes, the journey would have been terrible with palm slippers or just sandals. But the most challenging part for me was climbing the hills.

During my time in captivity, I tried to live from within. Each time I became afraid, or they threatened me with their guns, I reminded myself that the God I serve is greater than their guns. I also said the prayer to St. Michael often, because there is something quite demonic in an atmosphere where human life does not matter, or when money is priced above life. At one point, I asked God why He allowed this to happen. I have always trusted in the special protection of the rosary, and I was saying the rosary when I encountered the kidnappers. But it is reassuring to know that God’s special protection is not one that simply prevents misfortunes from happening, rather He prevents such misfortunes from consuming us.

I realised that I did not feel a particular animosity towards the kidnappers. But I was really full of pity for them. If these men (some of them seem to be in their twenties and others in their forties) could use the prime of their lives to engage in these nefarious activities, what would they do in the later days of their lives? Most of them, I believe, were married, and had children. I often wondered what they will tell their family and children that they do.

There were sometimes acts of unexpected kindness. This, and the way they often referred to God really set me thinking that these men are also children of God who are called to salvation. Despite everything, my overall perception was that they still lived with some awareness of God’s presence. On one occasion, as I asked if could speak to my negotiator, one of them told me to wait for him to finish praying. When one of them gave me roasted corn, and I said thank you, he replied “thank God.” 

These cases, and the wrong-headed direction they have taken in life made me pray for their conversion. Yes indeed, they too are children of God who are also called to salvation. 

I tried to accompany different moments with prayers because it was virtually a few long days of retreat. The words of 1 John 4:4 kept ringing in my ears: ‘Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world’. Christ’s words during His Passion also sometimes came to my mind: “You will have no power over me if it has not been given to you from above.” (John 19:11).

From a human angle, this experience would be too much for a man in his lifetime. But God knows how to bring out the best from even the worst situations, and His hand is never shortened (Is. 59:1). We trust in His constant protection to lead us through, until we reach our final destination, where evil can no longer disturb our inner peace.

 

By Filipe d’Avillez.

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