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Mother of priest in Madison Catholic Diocese rescued after kidnapping in Nigeria
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Mother of priest in Madison Catholic Diocese rescued after kidnapping in Nigeria

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The Rev. Paul Arinze

The Rev. Paul Arinze hugs a student during an all-school Mass at Alliant Energy Center in Madison in this 2012 photo. Arinze's mother was rescued Saturday after being kidnapped in Nigeria.

The mother of a priest in the Madison Catholic Diocese has been rescued after being kidnapped in Nigeria and held captive for a week, according to the diocese.

The woman, Virginia Arinze, was abducted at gunpoint from her home on the afternoon of Feb. 21, according to Monsignor James Bartylla, the diocese’s second in command.

She is the mother of the Rev. Paul Arinze, 42, a Nigerian native and pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Beloit.

Few details of the kidnapping are known, the diocese said, including the motive and whether the woman’s abductors are connected to Boko Haram, a terrorist organization wreaking deadly violence in the country.

Arinze, who flew to Nigeria on Sunday to be with his mother, said in an email Monday that she is at a hospital where she is in critical condition but stable.

She is suffering from extreme dehydration, exhaustion, problems with both knees and a dislocated shoulder, “all due to the way she was handled by her captors,” he said.

She was held outside in a remote forest the entire time of her captivity, exposing her to the elements, Arinze said. He said that his family paid “a negotiated ransom,” but that the captors refused to release her. That necessitated the rescue attempt, he said.

“We truly feel blessed that mom was rescued alive and are most grateful to both the local and federal authorities in Nigeria that were part of this rescue mission,” Arinze said.

Two of her captors were apprehended during the operation and “a few more since then,” he said. They are being questioned by authorities but have “yet to conclusively announce the motives” for the kidnapping, he said.

Arinze said his mother distracted herself in captivity by using her fingers to count the beads on her rosary. She prayed the rosary up to the time of her rescue, he said.

“I am most grateful to (Madison Catholic) Bishop (Robert) Morlino, the priests, religious (sisters) and all the good people of the diocese who prayed non-stop for her safe return,” he said. “In the midst of such a traumatic event, I saw the best of humanity in the many people who reached out to us.”

The kidnapping put diocesan officials in a predicament. They initially publicized news of the kidnapping on Feb. 22, hoping to rally people to pray for a safe return. Within hours, they had reversed course and sought a total news blackout, concerned the publicity could aggravate or embolden the captors.

The State Journal briefly posted an online article about the kidnapping on Feb. 22 but took it down after editors agreed with diocesan officials that the nature of the incident required extreme caution.

Nigeria has been beset by thousands of kidnappings. Last April, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of hundreds of female students from a government secondary school.

Arinze has been a priest in the diocese for 16 years and served for a time as the diocese’s vocations director, a post that helps men discern a calling for the priesthood.

His biography on the website of his Beloit parish says he was born in Nigeria and that his mother resides there in the city of Awka. His father, an attorney, died in 2006.

Over the years, Arinze has served parishes in Sun Prairie, Mount Horeb, Perry and Dodgeville.

He has been the subject of several news articles, including one in the New York Times, due to his side job as an umpire and line judge at the highest levels of tennis.

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