In Niger, the last traditions of the Peuls

REPORT – Breeders and nomads for many of them, this Sahelian tribe retains a strong identity underlined by customs such as the Guéréwol nuptial ritual. Yet many young people are tempted to join the jihadist ranks.

Face made up in vermilion red, lips and dark eyebrows, a young Wodaabe is ready to face the gaze of the female jury.
Face made up in vermilion red, lips and dark eyebrows, a young Wodaabe is ready to face the gaze of the female jury. Pascal Maitre / Myop

From our special envoys Jean-Marc Gonin (text) and Pascal Maitre / MYOP (photos)

In the Sahel, Mother Nature is capricious. Cruel to some, she is generous to others. At the end of the rainy season, farmers in northern Niger curse her while the herders give her thanks. The crops of the former, in particular onions which make up the essential part of their sales, have been swept away by the overflows of the wadis. The pastures of the latter are covered with tall, soft green grass. Walking through these expanses on the edge of the Sahara delivers an extremely rare spectacle: abundant vegetation, riddled with ponds filled with rainwater. “The animals profit, notes Badédé, a Fulani trader from Agadez. They eat and drink as much as they want. “

The celestial windfall delights the Peuls. A good part of this important Sahelian ethnic group, established from Senegal to Ethiopia and whose number is around 40 million, still live on pastoralism. Nomads

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The Pope receives Father Maccalli: a father’s embrace for a missionary from the suburbs

The emotion marks the voice of Father Pierluigi Maccalli at the end of today’s audience with Pope Francis who prayed for him for a long time together with the whole Church. They meet and tell each other a month after the missionary’s release in Mali: there is gratitude and disbelief in the face of the Vicar of Christ who bends down to kiss the hands of the priest

Benedetta Capelli and Gabriella Ceraso – Vatican City

After the embrace with the Pope, there are no words except “thank you”. Father Pierluigi Maccalli, missionary of the Society of African Missions, originally from Madignano, in the province of Cremona, released last October 8 after two years of imprisonment between Niger and Mali, retraces with Francis what he lived and entrusts to him his Africa, which has remained without a missionary guide. There is disbelief and the difficulty in expressing the gift of love received from the Pope, him a missionary from the periphery that the whole Church has carried in his heart, also thanks to the solicitation of the Pope:

Listen to the interview with Father Maccalli

R. – It was a very, very nice meeting. I was moved, above all by telling the Pope what I lived and then entrusting to his prayer, especially the communities to which I went and which have now been without a missionary presence and a priest for more than 2 years. I told the Pope to bring the Church of Niger with him in prayer. The Pope was very attentive, he listened to me very carefully. I also said a big “thank you” for having prayed for me, together with the Church, and then at the Angelus of the World Mission Day when he wanted this applause from the square for my release. I thanked him and he replied: “We supported you but you supported the Church”. I had no words in the face of this: I, a little missionary, and he who told me so … I really have no words.

What did receiving this caress from Pope Francis mean for you and for your history as a missionary marked, precisely, by this long rapture?

R. – It was the embrace of a father, this father that I carry in prayer every day. Here, finding him in front of me was truly an emotion and a feeling of great gratitude. I never thought that a missionary who goes to the peripheries of the world could one day find himself in front of the Pope himself, who supports the universal Church. These are difficult emotions to express… I kept saying, thank you, thank you, thank you.

A moment of the Pope's audience with Father Maccalli

A moment of the Pope’s audience with Father Maccalli

Is there a particular word that the Pope gave you and that you will also keep in your heart for the future?

R. – More than a word, a gesture. When we said goodbye, I shook his hand and he kissed my hands. I didn’t expect it ….

In the homily he gave yesterday in Rome. She said: I prayed with tears and the desert was an experience of essentiality. How much have these two years affected your faith?

R. – Tears have been my bread for many days and have been my prayer when I didn’t know what to say. I even wrote it down one day. I read in some rabbinic tale that God counts the number of women’s tears and I said to him: “Lord, who knows what men’s tears also count. I offer them to you in prayer to water that arid land of the mission but also the arid land of hearts that feel hate causing war and violence “. And then we go to the essentials in the desert. There you realize that it is essential to have water to drink, to have something to eat, even if it is the same food every day, onions and lentils and sardines. But you see that it is not the refined dishes that make the substance. So it is also in the spiritual life: what is worth is shalom, forgiveness and brotherhood, and as a missionary I feel even more urged to be a witness of peace, brotherhood and forgiveness, today and always.


Team 6’s operation to rescue a kidnapped American in Niger

A US Navy special forces team (SEAL Team 6) rescued an American who had been kidnapped in Niger and taken to neighboring Nigeria, the Pentagon announced on Saturday.

Philip Walton, 27, had been kidnapped on Monday night by six men armed with kalashnikovs on the outskirts of Massalata, a village about 10 kilometers from the border, where he lives with his wife and daughter about two years ago. years.

Walton, the son of a missionary who has lived in Niger for about three decades, was taken from his farm in front of the family, after the attackers had asked for money. He reportedly offered $ 40 before being taken by the men, who arrived on motorbikes.

Criminal and jihadist groups operate in the area, with Walton being taken away by the former with the aim of being sold to terrorist groups. On Wednesday, the family received a million-dollar ransom demand, but the hostage was eventually saved in a military operation.

The USA found the hostage by following the kidnappers’ cell phone, and had the support of the authorities in Niger and Nigeria. A team of 30 Team 6 commandos (the same one that killed Al-Qaeda leader Bin Laden) arrived in the area where they were after parachuting about five kilometers away from the camp where the hostage was.

Walton is safe and in the care of the State Department, the Pentagon said, explaining that the rescue operation went smoothly. No American soldier was injured and only one of about a dozen hijackers managed to escape. The others were killed.


“Resisting to exist”: Father Maccalli tells of his long imprisonment

“The future will be as God wills”: he looks at what he has lived and less at what awaits him, the missionary, originally from the province of Crema, released on 8 October last after the imprisonment that began in 2018 at the hands of jihadists between Niger and Mali. He does so in an interview with the Fides agency in which he also mentions Vatican Radio and the possibility, through its frequencies, of listening to the voice of the Pope “breath of fresh air” in the darkness of imprisonment

Gabriella Ceraso – Vatican City

Silence, mission, death, prayer: it is a flood, exciting, Father Pierluigi Maccalli in the interview – the first after his release on 8 October last – granted to the Fides agency. The 59-year-old missionary of the African Mission Society, kidnapped in September two years ago in Niger, is now in his home in Madignano in the province of Crema, among family members, citizens and confreres who, with the power of prayer, they supported from a distance and today they are confirmation for him that “the Mission is in God’s hands, it is Missio Dei”.

The testimony that emerges is that of a missionary totally entrusted to the hands of the Father, who has prayed and continues to pray for his jailers and who still needs time to understand what this affair will mean for his life “.” Taken away in slippers and pajamas “,” considered a ‘kafir’, impure, and condemned to hell “, the missionary sums up the time of imprisonment in two verbs:” resist to exist “.” My only support was prayer simple morning and evening that I learned in the family from my mother and grandmother’s rosary as a contemplative prayer “. A long period of” silence, purification, a return to the origins and to the essential “and many questions:” I shouted as outburst and lament to God: where are you? why have you forsaken me? Until when Lord? I knew and I know that He is there! But I know that God can be seen from behind, now that I am free, back home I am beginning to understand “.

“My only support was the simple morning and evening prayer”

From Vatican Radio the Pope’s voice: a breath of fresh air

Two long years in which there was no lack of what Father Gigi defines as “gifts”, “breaths of the Holy Spirit”. Like the one that arrived on the day of Pentecost 2020. From May 20, when he got hold of a radio, he says, “I was able to listen to the commentary on the Sunday Gospel from Vatican Radio every Saturday. Once even the live Mass … was precisely the mass of Pentecost 2020 “. The moment is special, the Pope’s homily is “a breath of fresh air”. “That morning – he says – to my great surprise I listen to Pope Francis in Italian, I close my ear and tune the radio better and I find myself at the beginning of the Pentecost mass in communion with the Pope, the church and the world. I tell myself” today I am in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and at the same time on a mission in Africa. I listen with some emotion to the readings and the Gospel that remind me of the motto of my priestly ordination, the passage from the Gospel of John (Jn 20): ‘As the father has gone I also send you. Receive the Holy Spirit’ “.

“Mission is not just ‘doing’, but silence and fundamentally it is Missio Dei”

Missionary from the bottom of my heart

For two years, therefore, prayer never ceased in the hands, on the lips, in the heart of Father Gigi, even in the absence of the Eucharist, and this was his salvation. “Every day and especially every Sunday I said the consecrating words’ this is my body offered, ‘bread broken for the world and Africa. In the morning prayer I prayed a French hymn … and ended by adding -‘ I have no other offer than the offering of my life ‘. Every Sunday I gave myself a good evangelical to meditate on, especially on the occasion of the strong times of Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter. Fear of being killed? “Only once – Father Gigi replies – I received expressly a threat … indeed a promise of a bullet in the forehead “, instead” I have always felt myself a missionary even with my feet chained, I would say ‘missionary from the bottom of my heart’. I often walked on the slopes of Bomoanga-Niger. My body was a prisoner of the sand dunes, but my spirit went to the villages that I mentioned in my prayer and I also repeated the names of my collaborators and of many people and young people that I carry in my heart especially the malnourished and sick children of whom I I am busy and many many faces that are a living presence in my wounded heart. I realized that mission is not just ‘doing’, but silence and fundamentally it is Missio Dei, it is the work of the Lord “.

The future is in God’s hands

Today there is no rancor towards those who held him prisoner only “much sadness” for those whom Father Pierluigi defines as “young people indoctrinated by propaganda videos”, who “do not know what they are doing” and to whom. indeed, before release. he wished in French to “realize one day that we are all brothers”. The interview ends with an eye to tomorrow, a tomorrow that the missionary hoped would rise every day, during his imprisonment, and that today he hands over to God: “at every sunset I said ‘let’s hope tomorrow’. Then at sunrise. I took up my rosary and continued to rhythm my day with the usual daily gestures, day after day. The future belongs to God, now I enjoy returning home, this is my present “.


Mali: Father Maccalli and Chiacchio released – Last Hour

(ANSA) – ROME, OCTOBER 9 – The priest Pier Luigi Maccalli, kidnapped in Niger in 2018, and Nicola Chiacchio were released in Mali. Father Maccalli, from the diocese of Crema, was kidnapped on 17 September 2018 in Niger, on a mission about 150 km from the capital Niamey. In April Avvenire had published a video in which the Lombard priest was imprisoned together with Chiacchio, of whom they had lost track, perhaps kidnapped during a vacation.

“Good news: Father Pier Luigi Maccalli and Nicola Chiacchio are finally free and well. They had been kidnapped by a jihadist group. Thanks to our intelligence, in particular Aise, and to all those who worked to bring them home”. Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio writes on Twitter after the liberation of the two compatriots in Mali.