Three Marianite Sisters: Suellen Tennyson, Pascaline Tougma and Pauline Drouin, are pictured in an undated photo near the clinic where they serve in Yago, Burkina Faso. Sister Tennyson, 83, an American, was kidnapped late April 4 or early April 5 after armed attackers broke into the convent on the parish compound. (CNS photo/courtesy Marianites of the Holy Cross) EDITOR’S NOTE: BEST IMAGE AVAILABLE.

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) – The attack in which Marianite Sister Suellen Tennyson, 83, was abducted from her convent in Yalgo, Burkina Faso, the morning of April 5 was conducted by at least 10 armed men, the Marianites of Holy Cross said in an electronic newsletter.

The congregation said Sister Tennyson, the former international congregational leader for order and a native of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, was sleeping when the men burst into the convent, ransacked the living quarters and kidnapped her, leaving behind two other Marianite sisters and two young women who also live in the convent.

“There were about 10 men who came during the night while the sisters were sleeping,” Marianite Sister Ann Lacour, congregational leader, said in the e-bulletin April 6. “They destroyed almost everything in the house, shot holes in the new truck and tried to burn it. The house itself is OK, but its contents are ruined.”

Sister Lacour, who currently is attending a congregational meeting in Le Mans, France, said she was told by the two younger women living at the convent that Sister Tennyson was taken from her bed with “no glasses, shoes, phone, medicine, etc.”

The other two Marianites at the convent — Sister Pauline Drouin, a Canadian, and Sister Pascaline Tougma, a Burkinabé — were not abducted and did not see many of the details.

“They say the two young women who live with them saw what happened and told them (the details),” Sister Lacour said. “They think there were more men on the road. They have heard nothing from or about Suellen since she was taken.”

Sister Lacour said Sister Drouin and Sister Tougma have been relocated to Kaya, Burkina Faso, about 70 miles from Yalgo.

“We let them know that the U.S. Embassy as well as the vicar general of Le Mans (who spent time as a missionary) strongly urged them to leave Burkina Faso and go to France,” Sister Lacour said. “They were not open to leaving the country without Suellen — they want to stay and wait for her and seem confident that she will be released.”

Sister Lacour said the Marianites have contacted the U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso and the U.S. State Department, and “they have assured us that this is a high-priority case for them.” The congregation also has contacted the apostolic nuncios to the U.S., Burkina Faso and France as well as the Vatican’s secretary of state and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the U.S.

“They are all doing what they can,” Sister Lacour said.

Sister Lacour told Catholic News Service that Sister Tennyson was kidnapped “because she’s American.”

Yalgo is in northern Burkina Faso, not far from the border with Mali. Reliefweb reports that in the last two years, Burkina Faso’s northern and eastern regions have seen a “sharp deterioration in the security situation … due to the presence of nonstate armed groups.”

Sister Lacour, who has visited the Marianites in the country, said Sister Tennyson was serving as a pastoral minister, “to wipe tears, give hugs, import a smile. She really did support the people that work in the clinic that the parish runs.” People walked for miles to get help from the clinic, she said.

She added that Sister Tennyson is in good medical health.

“I don’t know if any of us are prepared to be kidnapped,” she added.

In a statement released to media in Africa and Europe, Bishop Théophile Nare of Kaya said, “Until the search for her is successful, we remain in communion of prayer for the release of Sister Suellen Tennyson.”

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond joined in the appeal of the safe return of Sister Tennyson, who, among her local assignments, was executive director of the Office of Religious, 1996-2007.

“For many years, Sister Suellen ministered to the people of the Archdiocese of New Orleans with great joy. Today, we express our sadness and shock at her abduction and offer our prayers for her safe return. Please join me in praying for Sister Suellen, the Marianite Sisters of the Holy Cross, and all who know and love her during this difficult time,” the archbishop said.

Pope Francis holds a Ukrainian national flag during his general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican April 6, 2022. The pope said the flag came “from that tormented city, Bucha.” (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis once again pleaded for an end to the bloodshed and violence in Ukraine after images of innocent civilians apparently executed in Bucha sparked outrage and horror around the world.

“The recent news of the war in Ukraine, instead of bringing relief and hope, attest to new atrocities, such as the massacre of Bucha,” the pope said April 6 before concluding his weekly general audience.

The world is witnessing “ever-more horrendous acts of cruelty done against civilians, unarmed women and children, whose innocent blood cries out to heaven and implores, ‘End this war. Silence the weapons. Stop sowing death and destruction,'” he said.

Videos and photographs released April 3, after Russian troops retreated from Bucha and other towns, showed dead bodies in the streets and in the yards of homes. Many appeared to have been shot in the head, execution style, and the hands of many of the corpses were bound.

Although Russia dismissed the accusations of war crimes as “fake news,” evidence of mass executions sparked outrage, prompting several countries to expel Russian diplomats from their lands and leading to renewed calls for tougher actions against Russia.

After leading pilgrims in a silent prayer for the country, Pope Francis held up a Ukrainian flag that was sent to him “from that tormented city of Bucha.”

The pope then invited to the stage several Ukrainian children who recently arrived in Italy and asked the crowd to “greet them and pray together with them.”

The children, accompanied by two women, went up to the pope. One young boy held a hand-made poster of the Ukrainian flag, with a smaller Italian flag in the center and outlines of small hands.

The pilgrims present at the audience hall applauded loudly as the pope welcomed the children, with one shouting, “Slava Ukraini” (“Glory to Ukraine”).”

Gently rolling up the Ukrainian flag, the pope reverently kissed it before handing out chocolate Easter eggs to the children, prompting one of the women, holding a baby in her arms, to wipe away tears from her eyes.

“These children were forced to flee and come to a foreign land. This is one of the fruits of war,” Pope Francis said. “Let us not forget them and let us not forget the Ukrainian people.”

Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino, Italy, processes with a reliquary containing a relic of Blessed Carlo Acutis during Mass at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, N.Y., April 4, 2022. Archbishop Sorrentino was visiting the New York metropolitan area with the relic during a five-day trip to the U.S. Blessed Acutis, an Italian teen who died in 2006 and was beatified in 2020, is entombed in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Assisi. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y. (CNS) – Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi, Italy, brought a first-class relic of Blessed Carlos Acutis to a Catholic high school on Long Island April 4 as he began a five-day tour with the relic.

Blessed Acutis, an Italian teen who died of leukemia in 2006 and was beatified in 2020, is entombed in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Assisi. The 15-year-old’s use of technology to spread devotion to the Eucharist prompted Pope Francis to hail him as a role model for young people today.

“It is a joy for me to carry this relic from Assisi, where Blessed Carlo said he felt ‘happiest of all,'” Archbishop Sorrentino said in a statement ahead of his visit to the New York metropolitan area. His first stop was the Rockville Centre Diocese.

The teen’s remains lie in the Assisi church’s Sanctuary of Renunciation, “the very place where St. Francis, 800 years earlier, stripped himself of everything to follow Jesus,” the archbishop said.

“My prayer is that the presence of Blessed Carlo’s relic stir a desire within our American brothers and sisters, especially the young, not to waste life, but rather to make of it a masterpiece, as chosen by Blessed Carlo in our own times and St. Francis before him,” he added.

Blessed Acutis centered his life on the Eucharist to grow in his relationship with Jesus: “The more we receive the Eucharist,” he would say, “the more we will become like Jesus.”

He strove to attend daily Mass and spend time in eucharistic adoration, believing that “when we get in front of Jesus in the Eucharist, we become saints.”

The relic of the teen is a fragment of the pericardium, the membrane that surrounded and protected his heart.

The archbishop’s relic tour was organized in response to a request by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and coincided with a New York exhibit, “Museum of Memory, Assisi 1943-1944,”  which recognizes lifesaving actions taken by clergy and citizens of Assisi to protect Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

In the Rockville Centre Diocese, Archbishop Sorrentino celebrated Mass for 2,400 students at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, where the relic was exposed.

In the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, he was to lead a diocesan youth and young adult Holy Hour at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Astoria and a high school rally at Holy Family Church in Flushing, again with exposition of the relic.

Other stops included an evening Mass April 7 at St. Rita’s Church in the Bronx in the Archdiocese of New York with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan as the celebrant.

Archbishop Sorrentino was being accompanied on the relic tour by Msgr. Anthony J. Figueiredo, a Vatican consultant, and Marina Rosati, founder and curator of the Museum of Memory.

Blessed Acutis is the patron of the first year of a three-year eucharistic revival the U.S. bishops approved during their fall general assembly in November in Baltimore. The revival will culminate in 2024 with the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis.

The name of Archbishop Sorrentino’s diocese is officially Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino, formed in 1986 when the Diocese of Assisi was combined with the Diocese of Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino.

Pope Francis leads a prayer meeting at Ta’ Pinu National Shrine in Gozo, Malta, April 2, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – In his brief visit to Malta, Pope Francis once again waded into the migration issue, reminding the country’s people of the “unusual kindness” they are known for while delicately questioning the Maltese government’s controversial policies toward migrants.

During his trip April 2-3, the pope sought a balance between approach and reproach.

And empathizing with Malta, he emphasized the need for a collective effort by Europe to deal with the migration crisis rather than leaving individual countries, especially those closest to Africa and the Middle East, to bear the brunt of the cost.

“Migrants must always be welcomed,” the pope told journalists flying with him back to Rome April 3. “The problem is that each government has to say how many they can receive regularly to live there. This requires an agreement among the countries of Europe, and not all of them are willing to receive migrants.”

“We forget that Europe was made by migrants, right? That’s the way things are, but at the very least let us not leave all the burden to these neighboring countries that are so generous, and Malta is one of them,” he said.

Due to its proximity to North Africa, the Mediterranean archipelago has experienced a large influx of migrants coming to its shores from Libya in recent years.

Current European Union policies have left Malta and other frontline countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece on their own to rescue, shelter, verify and try to integrate the migrants.

However, unlike other European countries, the increase in arrivals prompted Maltese authorities to pursue an agreement with Libya that would allow the Libyan coast guard to intercept and rescue migrants out at sea and return them to Libya, even if migrants are within Malta’s search and rescue area.

Upon their return to Libya, refugees, including women and children, are often shipped to detention centers where, according to Amnesty International, many have been subjected to torture, as well as sexual and physical abuse.

In his first speech in Malta, Pope Francis addressed government and civil leaders and members of the diplomatic corps April 2, applauding Malta’s efforts to assist migrants but also firmly stating that any approach that denigrates the rights and dignity of migrants are an affront to God and humanity.

“Civilized countries cannot approve for their own interest sordid agreements with criminals who enslave other human beings,” the pope said.

However, vulnerable migrants who successfully make it to Malta’s shores don’t fare any better, as one Nigerian migrant, Daniel Jude Oukeguale, told Pope Francis during his April 3 visit to the John XXIII Peace Lab in Hal Far.

Oukeguale told the pope that upon his arrival in Malta, he and other migrants “were put in detention for six months the same night we landed.”

“I almost lost my mind,” he said. “Why were men like us treating us like criminals and not like brothers?”

The pope told journalists on his return flight to Rome he was moved by the experiences he heard at the migrant center and once again questioned Malta’s controversial policy of allowing migrants approaching by sea to be forced back to Libya.

At the migrant center, he said, “the things I heard there are terrible, the suffering of these people to get here; and then the camps, there are camps, which are on the Libyan coast, when they are sent back. This seems criminal, doesn’t it?”

Further driving the point home, Pope Francis noted that while refugees fleeing from war and violence in Ukraine are rightly welcomed into Europe with open arms, migrants who come from other countries but face the same difficulties are treated much differently.

“Just as Europe is making room so generously for the Ukrainians who knock on the door, so too (it should be) for the others who come from the Mediterranean,” he said.

Speaking to Malta’s leaders on his first day in their country, the pope made sure to remind them that the Maltese language, which is derived from Arabic, bears witness to the fact that welcoming migrants is a benefit, not a detriment, to the country and its people.

The Maltese language, he said, recalls “the capacity of the Maltese people to generate beneficial forms of coexistence in a sort of conviviality of differences.”

“This is what the Middle East needs: Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and other contexts torn by problems and violence.” Pope Francis said. “May Malta, the heart of the Mediterranean, continue to foster the heartbeat of hope, care for life, acceptance of others, yearning for peace, with the help of the God whose name is peace.”