In 2018, 40 missionaries were killed in the world, 17 more, almost double, compared to 23 in 2017. Among them 35 were priests, one seminarian and four lay people. After eight consecutive years in which the highest number of missionaries killed was in America, in 2018 Africa had the primacy of the bloodshed: 19 priests, a seminarian and a lay woman.
America follows, with the murder of 12 priests and 3 lay people; three priests were killed in Asia and one in Europe. According to the data collected by Catholic News Agency Fides, with these 40 victims, the missionaries killed between the 2001-2018, total 456.
Many cases are very emotional. There is Thérese Deshade Kapangala, 24 years, at the beginning of her journey as a postulant among the Sisters of the Holy Family. She was killed in January 2018 during the military repression of a protest, promoted by lay Catholics, against President Kabila’s decision of not celebrating the scheduled elections. After Mass in Kintambo, in the north of Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo Capital), when the march began, the army which was deployed outside the church, opened fire. Thérese was fatally hit while trying to protect a child.
In Nigeria, Fr Joseph Gor and Fr Felix Tyolaha were killed by jihadist pastors in the Mbalomvillage (Benue State), located in the centre of a country, almost divided in two between a North predominantly Muslim and a South Christian-populated. It was on April 24, 2018 when there was the massacre. Mass had just begun and the faithful were still entering the church when an armed group began firing. Nineteen people, including the two priests were killed. A raid followed and 60 houses were razed to the ground.
Of the 12 priests killed in America, 7 were in Mexico. Don Juan Miguel Contreras García, 33 years and recently ordained priest, was killed on April 20th at the end of Mass in the Saint Pio Parish of Tlajomulco (State of Jalisco). A commando broke into the sacristy and opened fire. Don Juan was dedicated to the education of the native community families in the Amazon region. Carlos Riudavets Montes, a 73-year-old Spanish member of the Jesus’ Society, was found bound and with violence marks in Yamakentsa, a Peruvian Amazonian community, the one he loved and from which he was receiving a great affection.
Sandor Dolmus was 15 years old. He performed the liturgical service in the cathedral of Leon, in Nicaragua. During one of the many protests that involved the youths, supported by the local Bishops, he was killed by a gunshot in June 2018.
Also this year many of these 40 missionaries lost their lives as victims of robbery or theft, due to, social contexts of poverty and degradation, where violence is the rule of life, the state authority is absent or weakened by corruption and compromised, and where religion is exploited. These priests, religious and laity were sharing the same daily life with their people, bringing them an evangelical witness of love and service for all, a sign of hope and peace, trying to alleviate the suffering of the weakest and raising their voices in defence of human rights when trampled, always denouncing evil and injustice. Even in such extreme situations, they remained firm in their posts, aware of the risks they were running, being faithful to their commitments.
For this reason, they are witnesses of Justice and Peace, a commitment based on faith and born from the fidelity to the Gospel. A loyalty paid dearly that the Church sometimes recognises in an official way, in the same way as for the 19 martyrs of Algeria, killed between 1994 and 1996 and beatified on December 8th, 2018 in Oran; or as for Sister Leonella Sgorbati, a Consolata missionary, killed on September 17th, 2006 in Mogadishu, Somalia, and beatified on May 26th, 2018.
From the different stories two common dimensions emerge, the love for the people and the passion for the Gospel leading these missionaries to share courageously all the dangerous life situations with their people. The term used for them is “missionary” because by virtue of the Baptism received, every member of the God’s People is a missionary disciple and the term “martyrs” is avoided here, except in its etymological meaning of “witnesses”. Only the Church’s judgement may possibly give it one day to some of them.