By Devin Watkins
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.”
By Devin Watkins