Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:20 p.m. EST on April 6.
New Orleans – The attack in which Marianite Sr. Suellen Tennyson, 83, was abducted from her convent in Yalgo, Burkina Faso, on the morning of April 5 was carried out by at least 10 armed men, the Marianites of Sainte -Cross in an email newsletter.
The congregation said Tennyson, the former head of the International Congregation for Order and a native of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, was sleeping when the men broke 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 Sr. Ann Lacour, congregation leader, said in the April 6 email newsletter. “They destroyed almost everything in the house, ripped holes in the new truck and tried to burn it. The house itself is OK, but its contents are in ruins.
Lacour, who is currently attending a congregational meeting in Le Mans, France, said the two young women living at the convent told her that Tennyson had been taken out of bed without “glasses, shoes, phone, medicine, etc. “
The other two Marianites in the convent – Sr. Pauline Drouin, a Canadian, and Sr. Pascaline Tougma, a Burkinabé – were not abducted and did not see many details.
“They say the two young women who live with them saw what happened and told them [the details]“, Lacour said. “They think there were more men on the road. They haven’t heard anything from or about Suellen since she was abducted.”
Lacour said Drouin and Tougma were moved to Kaya, Burkina Faso, about 70 miles from Yalgo.
“We let them know that the United States 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,” Lacour said. “They weren’t willing to leave the country without Suellen – they want to stay and wait for her and seem confident she will be released.
Lacour said the Marianites contacted the U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso and the U.S. State Department, and “they assured us that this was a high priority case for them.” The congregation also contacted the Apostolic Nuncios in the United States, Burkina Faso and France as well as the Vatican Secretary of State and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States.
“They’re doing everything they can,” Lacour said.
Lacour told Catholic News Service that Tennyson was kidnapped “because she’s American.”
Yalgo is in the north of Burkina Faso, not far from the border with Mali. Reliefweb reports that over the past two years, the northern and eastern regions of Burkina Faso have experienced a “sharp deterioration in the security situation…due to the presence of non-state armed groups”.
Lacour, who visited Marianites in the country, said Tennyson served as a pastoral minister, “to wipe away the tears, to give hugs, to import a smile. She really supported the people who work in the clinic that the parish runs. ” People have traveled miles to get help from the clinic, she said.
She added that Tennyson is in good medical condition.
“I don’t know if any of us are ready to be kidnapped,” she added.
In a statement released to media in Africa and Europe, Bishop Théophile Nare de Kaya said, “Until the search is successful, we remain in communion of prayer for the release of Sister Suellen Tennyson.”
New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond has joined the call for the safe return of Tennyson, who among her local assignments served as executive director of the Office of Religious from 1996 to 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 Please join me in praying for Sister Suellen, the Marianite Sisters of the Holy Cross, and all who know and love her at this difficult time,” the Archbishop said.
[Barb Fraze in Washington contributed to this story.]