Sunday, December 31, 2023

Missionaries and pastoral care workers killed in 2023

Fides News Agency | Rome

According to information gathered by Agenzia Fides, 20 missionaries were killed in the world in 2023: 1 Bishop, 8 priests, 2 non-religious men, 1 seminarian, 1 novice and 7 laypersons.

Although the lists compiled by Fides are always open to updates and corrections, there were 2 more missionaries killed compared to the previous year. 

This year the highest number of missionaries killed is again registered in Africa, where 9 missionaries were killed: 5 priests, 2 religious men, 1 seminarian, 1 novice. 

In America, 6 missionaries were murdered: 1 Bishop, 3 priests, 2 lay women. In Asia, 4 lay men and women died, killed by violence. Finally, a layman was killed in Europe.

As it has been for some time, Fides uses the term "missionary" for all the baptized, aware that "in virtue of their Baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples. All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization" (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 120). 

Moreover, the annual list of Fides does not look only to Missionaries ad gentes in the strict sense, but tries to record all baptized engaged in the life of the Church who died in a violent way, not only "in hatred of the faith". 

For this reason, we prefer not to use the term “martyrs”, if not in its etymological meaning of “witness”, in order not to enter into the question of the judgment that the Church might eventually deliver upon some of them, after careful consideration, for beatification or canonization.

One of the distinctive traits that most of the pastoral workers murdered in 2023 have in common is undoubtedly their normal life: that is, they did not carry out any sensational actions or out-of-the-ordinary deeds that could have attracted attention and put them in someone's crosshairs. 

Scrolling through the few notes on the circumstances of their violent deaths, we find priests who were on their way to celebrate Mass or to carry out pastoral activities in some distant community; armed assaults perpetrated along busy roads; assaults on rectories and convents where they were engaged in evangelization, charity, human promotion. They found themselves, through no fault of their own, victims of kidnappings, acts of terrorism, involved in shootings or violence of various kinds.

In this 'normal' life lived in contexts of economic and cultural poverty, moral and environmental degradation, where there is no respect for life and human rights, but often only oppression and violence is the norm, they were also united by another 'normality', that of living the faith by offering their simple evangelical witness as pastors, catechists, health workers, animators of the liturgy, of charity....They could have gone elsewhere, moved to safer places, or desisted from their Christian commitments, perhaps reducing them, but they did not do so, even though they were aware of the situation and the dangers they faced every day. Naive, in the eyes of the world. But the Church, and ultimately the world itself, moves forward thanks to them, who "are not flowers sprouting in a desert", and to the many who, like them, testify their gratitude for the love of Christ by translating it into daily acts of fraternity and hope.

During the Angelus on the feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian community, Pope Francis recalled: "There are still those – and there are many of them – who suffer and die to bear witness to Jesus, just as there are those who are penalized at various levels for the fact of acting in a way consistent with the Gospel, and those who strive every day to be faithful, without ado, to their good duties, while the world jeers and preaches otherwise. These brothers and sisters may also seem to be failures, but today we see that it is not the case. Now as then, in fact, the seed of their sacrifices, which seems to die, germinates and bears fruit, because God, through them, continues to work miracles (cf. Acts 18:9-10), changing hearts and saving men and women" (Angelus, December 26, 2023).