There are the nuns of Mother Teresa who were slain in Yemen.
the catechist who was killed in Indonesia, the priests who were gunned
down in Mexico and the seminarian who lost his life in Nigeria.
there is Fr. Hamel, who was martyred right in the heart of Europe.
the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, has
published a report – as it does at the end of every year - presenting a
list of Catholic pastoral workers killed in a violent manner.
information relates to all continents and to the political and religious
tensions witnessed in the various regions from the Middle East to
Eastern Asia, America and Black Africa.
The 2016 list
includes 28 new martyrs (a term that is used exclusively in the
etymological sense of the word: “testimonies”): 14 priests, nine nuns, a
seminarian and four lay people. Most of the victims registered (12)
were in America; Africa follows with eight, Asia with 7 and Europe with
Verified victims are mentioned in a list that has been
described as “certainly incomplete”.
This new information takes the
number of Catholic pastoral workers killed around the world, from 1980
onwards, to a total of 1,112 victims.
“In 2016, for the
eight consecutive year, the highest number was registered in America,
while the number of nuns killed – nine this year – rose dramatically,
that is more than double the figure recorded in 2015,” Fides
says. The primary cause of violent death is not, as some may assume,
Islamic extremism, but “attempted robberies or theft, committed with
ferocity, in contexts that show moral degradation, economic and cultural
poverty, violence as a rule in terms of behaviour, a lack of respect
for human rights and for life itself”. And this has become an
established trend in recent years.
always take place in contexts of global unrest, power clashes, social
and political violence. These are the contexts in which the innocent
lose their life, ready as they are to bear witness to the Gospel “even
in the farthest corners” of the earth.
But today, the annual
martyrology is also a treasure chest that can reveal to us the true
nature of Christian martyrdom, which is too often betrayed with a
“persecutionist ideology” that exploits the lives of modern martyrs,
greedily transforming their experiences into a golden opportunity to
launch campaigns driven by political or even military interests (as is
the case with the defence of Christians in the Middle East).
mention the fact that martyrs sometimes end up falling prey to marketing
strategists who create visibility and financial power shrewdly
exploiting the sacredness of things (the history of those who give their
lives for the faith), that is able to touch the consciences and hearts
of believers and non-believers alike.
With a spirit that is
worlds away from these kinds of rationale, missionaries, nuns and lay
people who continue to give themselves for the Gospel, choosing to stay
at people’s side even in extreme situations, live their condition simply
as Christians. They administer the sacraments, help the poor, comfort
the sick trusting in divine Providence and living the Gospel even in
contexts of violence and conflict, with a disconcerting meekness that
expresses evangelical love towards the enemy.
the centuries,” observes Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, “Christians have
always seen martyrdom as the loftiest expression of faith. They have
always been celebrated as those who redeem all of us and save the world
because they take the sufferings endured in the name of God, upon them,
bringing to their contemporaries the redemption brought by Christ.”
case in point were the nuns massacred in Yemen, Fr. Hamel and other
missionaries, becoming shining examples of the dynamics of Christian
martyrdom. A closer look at their life stories reveals patience,
meekness, mercy and absence of hatred towards their persecutors: an
attitude that is not of human doing but a gift of Christ’s grace. It is
he, his triumph that shines through in the stories of those who “join in
his passion” through their closeness to Jesus Christ, explained Camillo
Ballin, Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia.
Today, there is
still one chapter of the tragic Yemen saga that remains open: the
kidnapping of Indian Salesian priest Tom Uzhunnanil, who was in the
targeted residence in Aden at the time of the attack. Hopes were
reignited after fears of a possible execution; on 24 December this year,
a video was published on YouTube showing Fr. Uzhunnalil hesitantly
appealing to the Pope, the Church and governments for his release.
Indian government reiterated its diplomatic commitment and Paul Hinder,
the Apostolic Vicar of Northern Arabia, stressed, without giving any
details, that “work is being done on a number of fronts to try to obtain
his release,” inviting all Christians to pray.
In the hope that Tom
Uzhunnalil’s name is not added to next year’s list of martyrs.