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Living an unforgettable spiritual experience

Sr. Gilberte Bussières, CND

“When we have nothing, we discover that God is all we need”, stated Sister Gilberte Bussières, CND, during her conference before an attentive audience at Maison Jésus-Marie, in Longueuil, in April. 

Coming to meet her “neighbors” in heart and mind, Sister Gilberte spoke about the events related to her abduction and her 58 days of captivity in utter destitution, with her two unfortunate companions. Explaining in great detail the first moments of this abduction around 11 PM, on April 4, 2014, Sister Gilberte experienced the agony of a first night in captivity, in a nightgown, without shoes, and alone among seven armed men in a car that had been stolen from the mission where she was living. 

Worried and in shock, she took refuge in prayer by often repeating Psalm 15 and in surrendering herself to God’s plan. It was only during a necessary stop by the kidnappers that she realized she was not alone in living these same painful events. The two Italian priests abducted the same night from a mission not too far from hers, had discovered her existence and had negotiated with the kidnappers so that she could end up in the same car as theirs. The rest of the journey, although very stressful, was somewhat more reassuring. 

Living in complete destitution 

Their arrival at a Nigerian camp during the afternoon was another shock for them. Apart from the fact that they had nothing to shelter them, as a welcome gift, they received a 10 kilo bag of Nigerian spaghetti, some tomato paste and a container of water which smelled and tasted like oil.“ We then became aware that we would be there for a long time.”

Even though everything could have led to discouragement, Sister Gilberte kept the faith. “We did not wish for this situation. We could not change it. It was up to us to change our attitude in the face of it”, she repeated to her companions in captivity. They succeeded, little by little, by getting organized from the first night and by seeking shelter under the trees. However, those who talk about living under the trees might be surprised by the colonies of black ants, snakes and other critters… “We had a lot of difficulty sleeping at night”, she said while pointing out that they had named their place of misfortune “the Inn of a Thousand Stars”!

Their first days were dedicated to the pure and simple organization of their lives. They marked out a trail in the forest in 50 metre increments, so that they could take daily walks despite the fact that two of them had no shoes. “We shared the Word of God during our daily 8 to 10 kilometre walks.”

An experience of faith, hope and self-abandonment

During these walks, the three captives shared their life stories and put their talents to work. One took care of starting a fire using blocks of clay, while Sister Gilberte kept a diary using paper and packaging retrieved from a bag of items stolen by the kidnappers. From these notes, the Italian priests put together a book which has already been published in Italian and which is to be published in French, this coming Fall.

Stricken with diarrhea during the early days of her captivity, Sister Gilberte never lost hope even though she worried about the effects of this situation on her state of health. “No toilet paper, one container of water per day, which we had to ration, and one bar of soap for the three of us”, clearly illustrates the destitution experienced by the captives. 

“We were able to live through the 58 days of complete material deprivation thanks to our faith, our hope and our self abandonment”, said Sister Gilberte. She added “We had never savoured the presence of God in such a way. It was an extraordinary and unforgettable spiritual experience”, stated the one who henceforth will dedicate most of her time to prayer, being no longer able to return to Cameroon on mission. 

Looking at the captors “with God’s eyes”

In spite of the deprivation and the many difficulties experienced in this unfortunate camp, Sister Gilberte expresses no anger or criticism towards her captors. “They were young people with no hope...aged between 14 and 25; they were not bad. They had nothing and could easily be recruited and indoctrinated.”

The attitude and the kind-heartedness of the three captives towards their captors enabled them to sometimes get small kindnesses… such as having a teaspoon of honey, a little bit of sugar and even 7 teabags purchased by their jailers from their meagre earnings. “My great consolation was having succeeded in making them our friends.”

To combat moments of discouragement, the three captives clung to feast days and to the saints by repeatedly telling themselves that today would be the day for good news. They waited for the Feast of the Visitation, for the situation to change. She was convinced that it was “definitely a day on which all of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame and others, would be praying for our release”. 

Release but not without difficulty…

Hopes were fulfilled on May 31, 2014, when the big boss showed up at the camp to let them know that there would be good news at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and for the first time, brought bottles of water for each of them. The captives experienced the agony of suspense, the fear of seeing the negotiations fail with the underlying threat of being back in captivity, after more than a half-day on the road under extreme conditions, and without eating. 

When they were finally released and taken back to the capital to go and meet the authorities including the President of Cameroon, it was not without heavy hearts that they passed in front of their missions, without being able to stop there to retrieve their personal belongings and especially to greet their friends and acquaintances. Before being separated and directed to their respective embassies where they were bombarded with questions, the three survivors did not miss the opportunity to share their last impressions.

“We will quickly forget our complete material deprivation but never would we be able to forget our spiritual experience nor the fragility, the respect and the camaraderie that had united us.”

Note: The conditions of their release have never been disclosed to the public or to the three survivors.

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