Her co-hostage freed a year before; nun meets Pope after Islamists let her leave Mali
She was flown from Bamako, Mali’s capital, direct to Rome where Vatican Media posted photos of her being greeted by the Pope at mass.in St Peter’s Basilica.
Despite earlier fears for her health, her brother Edgar Narvaez told AFP that photos showed her to look well, though extremely brown from the Malian sun. She herself told AFP “I’m very happy; I stayed healthy for five years, thank God.”
She was kidnapped on 7 February, 2017, in southern Mali, a relatively safe part of the country, which had till then been mainly unaffected by the Islamist attacks which had come in the wake of the Tuareg rebellion and subsequent coup in 2012; a coup which had later been put down by French troops.
During her long captivity, Argoti had also survived the vagaries of another coup in Mali in summer 2020.Now France is reducing its troops by half; and there are tensions between it and the coup’s leaders who are now in government.
The nun’s personal circumstances included the killing of her fellow hostage and devout Christian, Beatrice Stockli, probably in late summer 2020; Stockli, from Switzerland had been kidnapped from Timbuktu in northern Mali 13 months before Argoti.
The nun, now in her early sixties, had also endured the freeing of her camp-mate, French aid worker Sophie Petronin, exactly a year before the nun herself was finally freed on Friday 8 October, 2021.
It was Ms Petronin who confirmed that the Colombian woman was still alive as the captive of Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslim (JNIM), Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims.
Sadly, Gloria Argoti’s mother had died just weeks before Petronin was able to tell of how the two women had shared a tent. (Edgar Narvaez later told his sister in a note via the Red Cross that their mother had been “unable to endure the sadness and despair any longer.”)
Petronin had been kidnapped on Christmas Eve 2016, weeks before the nun’s own kidnap, but from the northern Mali city of Gao, where the French woman ran an NGO for children with disabilities. Both women had worked in Mali for years; 12 in the case of the Franciscan nun whose convent in Karangasso is about 300km east of Bamako. Locals reported at the time that the kidnappers had wanted to abduct the youngest nun, but Argoti had insisted that they take her instead.
While in captivity, she’s reported to have studied the Koran, presumably with Petronin, who herself apparently converted to Islam and took the name Mariam.
Edgar Narváez told the charity Aid to the Church in Need that the two women had spent most of their time together in the jihadists’ camp:
“Their separation caused great psychological and mental hardship to my sister, because they had shared four years of friendship. They got on very well together and were very good friends They were together for four years, they lived together, ate together, slept in the same tent. They were guarded, but enjoyed a degree of freedom. Up to a point, they were able to go outside and count the stars, the pebbles and the animals passing by, in order to kill time, because they had nothing else to do. They were given breakfast, lunch and tea; there were medicines and a doctor, and they were treated well because they were women, and on account of my sister’s religious [vocation] they showed her great respect.”
ACN reported that ‘One of the two jihadists guarding the hostages finally told Sophie Pétronin “Take your things, you’re leaving”’ on 5 Oct, 2020.
Sister Gloria, who was possibly next after the French doctor, reportedly asked, “And me?”, to which her captor replied, “You stay for later!”’