YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon (CNS) -- Catholic clergy who were abducted by separatists in Cameroon have pleaded with their bishop to secure their release in a video.
"It is quite difficult, and we are only begging ... that you do everything possible to get us out of here. It is a matter of do or die," Father Cornelius Jingwa, one of the priests, said in the 45-second video. "If you look at us, you'll see our faces are very dismal and unhappy."
The video, released on social networks Oct. 19 and run by the Cameroonian News Agency, showed the five priests with a nun, Sister Jacinta Udeagha, seated in a forest, accompanied by three distressed lay catechists.
All nine were seized Sept. 16 when 60 attackers destroyed St. Mary's Catholic Church in the southwestern village of Nchang, close to the Nigerian border.
In the video, Father Jingwa said he had fallen ill since his abduction and pleaded with Bishop Aloysius Fondong Abangalo of Mamfe to take steps to obtain the hostages' release.
"My brothers, too, are not feeling fine at all -- so please, kindly, my lord, get us out of here," the priest said. "Do whatever it takes to listen to these boys and do what they ask of you."
In early October, Father Humphrey Tatah Mbuy, spokesman for the Cameroonian bishops' conference, told national TV that the kidnappers had halved their ransom demand to $50,000, but added that priests and religious were being targeted increasingly by separatist and government forces "both for their peacemaking efforts and for extortion purposes."
After six years of conflict in Cameroon's two Anglophone regions, up to 6,000 people have been killed, 680,000 forcibly displaced, and 2 million left needing food assistance, according U.N. data released in August. In 2017, separatists declared an independent state, "Ambazonia."
Church leaders and human rights groups have condemned atrocities in the territories, home to a fifth of Cameroon's population of 25 million, a third of whom are Catholics.
In a statement after the attack on St. Mary's Church, Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Bamenda said the "heinous act against the house of God and messengers of God" had "crossed a red line" and demanded the immediate release of the abducted clergy.
"Since this crisis started, the people have suffered terribly, and men and women of God have been soft targets of kidnappers, torturers and unscrupulous gunmen," the archbishop said.
"The abductors claim the church has not been supporting the struggle for independence by separatist fighters, so they want money. We've tried to explain that the church cannot be paying ransom to separatist fighters or to criminals."