VATICAN (CWN) -- Seven Catholic mission workers in Sierra Leone were freed by the guerrillas who captured them after strenuous negotiations led by Bishop Georges Biguzzi of the Makeni diocese.

      The freed captives-- four monks and three medical workers-- had been taken from a hospital in the town of Lunsar on February 14. Their captors were troops loyal to the junta of Johnny Paul Koroma, which was forced from power in Sierra Leone in a February coup. Bishop Biguzzi told the Italian newspaper Avvenire that he was able, after "long and difficult" negotiations, to convince the soldiers that they should free the missionaries.

      Bishop Biguzzi added that other Catholics in Sierra Leone had protected their priests from attacks. He said that virtually all Catholic churches, religious houses, schools, and hospitals in the country had been subject to some form of attack or vandalism in the latest outbreak of fighting. At the moment, he said, the country is largely controlled not by any form of government but by roving criminal bands; many missionaries have been forced to flee from their posts and take refuge in the forests.

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March 5, 1998 volume 9, no. 46         DAILY CATHOLIC