Among those better known to European public opinion figures Fr Jacques Hamel, the 84-year-old priest violently killed by two terrorists July 27, 2016 while celebrating Mass in Paris. Or the four Missionary Sisters of Charity (two Rwandans, an Indian and a Kenyan) killed in Yemen, along with other persons, by a group of armed men who attacked the structure where they assisted the elderly and the disabled. But many are less known, such as Fr José Luis Sánchez Ruiz, from the diocese of San Andres Tuxtla, in Mexico, kidnapped and later released with “evident signs of torture”, according to a statement from the diocese. In the previous day he had been threatened for his harsh criticism against corruption and crime. 28 pastoral workers were killed in 2016, six more compared to the previous year. According to figures released by Fides for the eighth year running the highest numbers were registered in America (12). In 2016 14 priests, 9 religious women, one seminarian, and 4 lay people died violently. In Africa 8 pastoral care workers were killed; 7 in Asia; in Europe one priest was killed. As many as 1,112 were killed in the period 1990 – 2016. They will be remembered on the XXV Day in Memory of Missionary Martyrs organized each year on March 24 by the Italian Church, on the initiative of Missio. The date recalls the martyrdom of Blessed Mgr. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, murdered in 1980 while celebrating Mass in the cathedral. This year’s theme is: “Don’t be afraid.”
A deeply felt celebration. “It is a deeply felt celebration in Italy – said Fr Michele Autuoro, director of Missio – which is spreading to other Countries. We have prepared written materials with proposals of animation and religious celebration. The poster has already been placed across parishes. We want to commemorate the memory of priests, of religious and lay Catholics who devoted their lives to the Gospel, knowing that it involved the possibility of martyrdom.
It’s an important witness of total self-bestowal, in a world marked by widespread selfishness and new walls.”
Killed for their commitment. Most pastoral care workers were killed in attempted robbery, and in some cases violently attacked, in situations marked by violence, economic and cultural poverty. In many cases they were betrayed by their same collaborators: Father René Wayne Robert, 71, was killed in the United States on April 10 2016, by a young man with psychiatric disorders. In his will, written ten years before, he had already conveyed his fears: “Don’t sentence to death the man who killed me”; Brazilian Father Joao Paulo Nolli, was killed by three drug addicts to whom he had given a lift, after having been stolen of all his belongings. Others were killed as a result of their commitment for justice and human rights, simply because they were carrying out their service. Fr. Vincent Machozi, Assumptionist priest, was killed by soldiers on March 20 in the Democratic Republic of Congo: he was animating a meeting with traditional leaders of the Nandi ethnic group. He had repeatedly denounced their suffering caused by the armed groups engaged in the illegal exploitation of coltan (mineral used in the manufacture of electronic components for mobile phones). He had previously escaped seven armed attacks. Others were kidnapped in exchange of a ransom, as Fr John Adeyi, Vicar General of the Diocese of Otukpo, Nigeria. His remains were found on June 22, two days after having been kidnapped, despite the family had paid the demanded sum. Two Mexican priests, Fr Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juárez and Fr José Alfredo Suárez de la Cruz, were victims of a similar fate. They were kidnapped on September 18 in the city of Poza Rica. Their lifeless bodies were found the following day. The area is the scene of violent clashes between drug cartels.
The women religious, the Caritas workers. Nine women religious were killed, including Spanish Sister Isabel Solá Matas, 51, missionary in Haiti for many years, killed by robbers while driving her car in the dangerous city of Port-au-Prince in the attempt to steal her purse. Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merril, both 68, were killed by knives in their homes in Durant, in the State of Mississippi (USA). Sister Veronica Rackova, 58, Slovakian, a member of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Spirit, had received an emergency call for a difficult birth in the healthcare centre run by the Sisters in South Sudan. She was shot by soldiers on her way back. Some of the martyrs were Caritas workers: Elias Abiad died under the bombs in Aleppo, Syria. In the Democratic Republic of Congo were killed – in different places and circumstances – an operator from Caritas Basankusu and a driver who was transporting teachers’ salaries, 40 km from Ulvira in South Kivu.
The project for the Christians in Aleppo and other initiatives. For the Day, the young people of Missio ask support for a humanitarian program in Syria, responding to the appeal of Msgr. Boutros Marayati, Archbishop of Aleppo for Catholic Armenians since 1989. “The situation in Aleppo is dramatic and worrying because the definitive solution is still far away. Nonetheless we intend to continue to live and help our faithful continue praying in the church and sending their children to school – he writes -. We are asking your help to rebuild the cathedral and the diocesan school Imane Al “. They need 8,500 Euros … offerings have already started to pour in.