The Vatican has released its annual list of Catholic missionaries who died a violent death in 2021, with the majority bearing witness to their faith on the African continent.
Twenty-two missionaries lost their lives across the world this year: 13 priests, 1 religious brother, 2 religious sisters, and 6 lay persons.
Half (11) were killed on the African continent, followed by the Americas (7), then Asia (3), and finally Europe (1).
The data was gathered by Fides News Agency, and was released in a report on New Year’s Eve.
The Vatican agency says it uses the term “missionary” in a broad sense of “all the baptized engaged in the life of the Church who died in a violent way, not only ‘in hatred of the faith’.”
According to Catholic theology, all baptized Christians are missionary disciples, “whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith” (EG 120).
Though Europe counted just one murdered missionary, only the killing of Fr. Olivier Maire, SMM, in France made the headlines of the US- and Euro-centric Western press.
The provincial superior of the Montfort Missionaries died at the hands of a Rwandan-born immigrant whom he had been assisting.
Yet, the African continent counted the most missionary deaths, with a total of 11. The most recent was Fr. Luke Adeleke, a diocesan priest killed on Christmas Eve in a remote part of southwestern Nigeria.
Africa’s most populous nation also witnessed the murders of 3 other priests, in areas where lawless bandits often have free reign.
Three missionaries—2 women religious and one layman—lost their lives in South Sudan, while missionaries were also killed in Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Uganda, and Angola.
Mexico endured the bulk of missionary-murders in the Americas, with 4 men bearing witness to the faith in blood.
One was an indigenous lay catechist who was an activist campaigning “for respect of human rights in a non-violent way.”
Missionaries also lost their lives in Haiti, Peru, and Venezuela, where a religious brother was killed by a thief in the school in which he taught.
In Asia, a Filipino priest was shot in the head as he returned to his Seminary on the island of Mindanao.
The tumult in Myanmar left two Catholic laymen dead. Both were killed by snipers as they brought food and humanitarian aid to refugees fleeing the civil conflict.
Though they did not make the list, at least 35 innocent Catholic civilians were massacred on Christmas Eve by army forces.
In its annual report, Fides adds that the list is provisory and only includes missionaries whose fates have been independently verified.
The agency says there are countless others whose names will never be known and who “in every corner of the planet suffer and pay for their faith in Jesus Christ with their lives.”
For example, it fails to include another 16 catechists and pastoral workers killed in South Sudan during armed conflicts in 2021, whom the local bishop said were all “targeted and killed by pistol bullets for having spoken the truth with works of peace!”
The report also points to the murder of a young Italian layman who moved to Mexico to live a simple life and help his poor neighbors in any way possible.
As Pope Francis said in Slovakia earlier this year, each of these 22 missionaries died in the name of Jesus, offering “witness born out of love of Him whom they had long contemplated.”
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Pope Francis has released a video message to mark the 2nd International Day of Human Fraternity, and urges all people to trod the difficult path of fraternity in order to overcome the prejudices and conflicts that divide humanity.
Pope Francis sent a video message on Friday as the world marked the second Day dedicated to this historic event. Fraternity, said the Pope, can act as a “bulwark against hatred, violence, and injustice”.
“Fraternity is one of the fundamental and universal values that ought to undergird relationships between peoples, so that the suffering or disadvantaged do not feel excluded and forgotten, but accepted and supported as part of the one human family. We are brothers and sisters!”
Pope Francis said all people, regardless of religion or creed, are called to promote a “culture of peace” that welcomes all, while encouraging development and solidarity.
Throughout his message, the Pope repeated the affirmation that “we all live under the same heaven” and that we are all God’s children, no matter the colour of our skin or social class.
He said every person has a role to play in making the world a better place, by helping others raise “their eyes and prayers to heaven.”
“Let us raise our eyes to heaven, because whoever worships God with a sincere heart also loves his or her neighbour. Fraternity makes us open to the Father of all and enables us to see others as our brothers or sisters, to share life, to support one another and to love and come to know others.”
As the world faces the Covid-19 pandemic, he said, we must remember that we are not saved alone. Rather, we must extend our hands “to celebrate our unity in diversity—unity, not uniformity,” said the Pope.
“The time of fraternity has arrived,” he added, so we should strive to “live in solidarity with one another.”
He also lamented the many little wars—a “third world war being fought piecemeal”—that destroy lives, force children to endure hunger, and suppress educational opportunities.
“Now is not a time for indifference: either we are brothers and sisters, or everything falls apart.”
We must not be indifferent to each other’s sufferings, said the Pope. The common heritage of Christians, Muslims, and Jews in God’s promise to Abraham joins us and helps us live “a fraternity as vast and bright as the stars of heaven.”
Officials of the Roman Curia met with Pope Francis on Thursday for the annual exchange of Christmas greetings.
The Pope said the audience offers a yearly opportunity to “express our fraternity ‘out loud’” and to reflect on the identity and mission of the Church’s central governing body.
Humility formed the focus of the Pope’s speech, since the King of kings entered the world through precisely that door.
Lepers in need of healing
Pope Francis took the Biblical account of Naaman the Syrian, a military general and leper who sought healing from the prophet Elisha (2 Kgs 5), as an example for a person who covered their disease with bravery and honors.
“We often find this contradiction in our lives: sometimes great gifts are the armour that covers great frailties.”
The Pope said there comes a time in every person’s life when we must set aside the “world’s glory for the fullness of an authentic life.”
When Elisha offered Naaman a simple solution to his problem—stripping off his armour and bathing in the River Jordan—the general hesitates at first, before relenting and descending in humility to find healing.
“Once we strip ourselves of our robes, prerogatives, positions and titles, all of us are lepers in need of healing. Christmas is the living reminder of this realization.”
Humility embraces humanity
Pope Francis then warned against the temptation of “spiritual worldliness” which sets aside humility in favor of “our role, the liturgy, doctrine, and religious devotion.” This leads to vainglory where we dream of glorious undertakings yet spend no time on service or our true mission.
Humility, on the other hand, means “inhabiting” our humanity with “realism, joy, and hope”, while looking on our poverty with the love and tenderness of Jesus.
Pride, as the opposite of humility, burns both our link to the past and our growth in the present and future, leaving us only as barren trunks who neither remember nor are able to give life.
“The humble are those who are concerned not simply with the past, but also with the future, since they know how to look ahead, to spread their branches, remembering the past with gratitude. The humble give life, attract others and push onwards towards the unknown that lies ahead.”
Style of synodality
The Pope went on to note that everyone is called to humility, in the footsteps of Jesus, so as to encounter God, find salvation, and embrace our brothers and sisters.
He recalled the opening of the synodal journey in October, calling the Roman Curia to embrace the conversion toward the “style of synodality” and lead the Church as a witness. Poverty and simplicity of lifestyle, he said, are concrete ways the Curia can lead along the path of humility.
Pope Francis recalled his opening speech of the Synod and the three ways he offered to concretize humility.
“Participation” expressed through co-responsibility, he said, leaves space for creativity to emerge within various Vatican offices. “Authority becomes service when it shares, involves and helps people to grow.”
“Communion” allows us to put Christ back in the centre, encourages healthy working environments, and overcomes the urge to create factions and climb the corporate ladder. “An attitude of service requires, and indeed demands, a good and generous heart, in order to recognize and experience with joy the manifold richness present in the People of God.”
“Mission” opens our hearts to embrace Jesus’ “passion for the poor” and those who languish in material or spiritual need. “The Church also reaches out to the poor because we need them: we need their voice, their presence, their questions and criticisms.”
The Latin Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, has urged Christians to acknowledge the little town of Bethlehem as it actually is this Christmas, not as it is depicted in song and tradition.
“Amid the nostalgia and ancient memories of the first Christmas in Bethlehem, there is today a long sustained religious romanticism,” he said. He called that Christmas-time romanticism “understandable…but not realistic.”
“When you celebrate Christmas, remember that in Bethlehem, in Jerusalem, life is not a Christmas life. It is not the blessed life of the new redeemed humanity. The song of the Angels is far away.
“Christmas, every year reminds us that there is no peace on the earth, especially in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and that we have to make [peace] again,” he said in a greeting to a Pax Romana group based in New York.
He said that in the occupied territories, “everywhere justice is lacking.”
“We know the pain. We taste the daily trauma. Sadly, we know that darkness yet hovers over the Holy Night. We must be the light of Christ,” Patriarch Sabbah said.
“With the focus on the Child Jesus, we must ask anew: What about the Children of Bethlehem, of Palestine? What about the required protection and human security for all God’s children?
“In the face of the [Israeli] occupation and insecurity, children suffer,” he said. “Natural innocence is stolen. Random violence and vulnerability robs mothers of peace for their children in Bethlehem and throughout the Holy Land.”
In an apparent reference to U.N. resolutions and the terms of the Oslo accords that once seemed to offer a two-state solution to the conflict in Israel-Palestine, Patriarch Sabbah said that all the hard decisions have already been made, and only the courage to see them through remain lacking.
He called on political leaders in the United States and Israel to find that courage and urged the members of Pax Romana to press them to do so.
Patriarch Sabbah led the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem from 1987 until 2008, the first Palestinian-born patriarch in five centuries.
In 2009, Patriach Sabbah, with other prominent Palestinian Christian leaders, authored the Kairos Palestine Document that described the Israeli occupation of the West Bank territories as a “sin against God and humanity.”
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