Pastoral care workers killed in 2017, Latin-America’s tragic “primacy” repeated, again

Pastoral care workers killed in 2017, Latin-America’s tragic “primacy” repeated, again

By Gianni Valente/

Fides Agency annual dossier confirms: for eight consecutive years, the Latin American nations hold the record for the largest number of Catholic pastoral care workers murdered. The data and documentation are marked by valuable - and rare - considerations on the martyr feature marking the Church’s entire journey through history.

Even in 2017, and for eighth consecutive years, the highest number of Catholic pastoral workers killed did not occur in countries with an Islamic majority or in Asian nations, but in the Americas, and among the peoples (the clear majority of whom were Catholics) of Latin America, according to data gathered in a dossier published this year at the end of December by Fides, the information Agency of the Pontifical Mission Societies, which this year celebrates its ninetieth anniversary.

In the past year (2017), 23 Catholic pastoral care workers were killed worldwide: 13 priests, 1 religious brother, 1 religious sister, 8 lay persons. According to the territorial distribution, For the eighth consecutive year, the place most affected, with an extremely elevated number of pastoral care workers killed is Latin America (Mexico, Central America and South America), where 11 pastoral care workers were killed (8 priests, 1 religious brother, 2 lay people), followed by Africa, where 10 pastoral care workers were killed (4 priests, 1 religious, 5 lay people); 2 pastoral workers (1 priest, 1 lay person) were killed in Asia, both killed in the Philippines, the only Asian country with a Catholic majority.

If we consider each country individually, the nation that in 2017 recorded the highest number of violent deaths among pastoral care workers is Nigeria (with 5 pastoral care workers killed), followed by Mexico (4), Colombia and the Philippines (2). About the Latin American and Mexican situation, Fides dossier reports the considerations of Father Omar Sotelo, Director of the Mexican Multimedia Center, “Violence against the clergy has increased in recent years, without seeing concrete actions to stop it. The population is permanently exposed to crime, we know it well, but now above all priesthood has become a dangerous ministry; in the last nine years, Mexico is the country with the highest number of priests killed”.

Fides report, edited by Stefano Lodigiani, clarifies that “As it has been for some time, Fides’ list does not only include missionaries ad gentes in the strict sense, but all pastoral care workers who died violent deaths. We do not propose to use the term “martyrs”, if not in its etymological meaning of “witnesses” since it is up to the Church to judge their possible merits and also because of the scarsity of available information in most cases, with regard to their life and even the circumstances of their death”. “Those who were killed – according to Fides - represents “only the tip of the iceberg, as the list of pastoral care workers or simple Catholics, assaulted, beaten, robbed, threatened, as well as Catholic structures at the service of the entire population, assaulted, vandalized or looted is certainly long.” The provisional list compiled annually by Agenzia Fides, must therefore be added to the long list of many of whom there may never be news, who in every corner of the world suffer and even pay with their lives for their faith in Christ.

Fides Dossier mentions Bishop of Bafia, in Cameroon, His Exc. Mgr. Jean-Marie Benoit Bala, whose body was found in the waters of the Sanaga River on 2 June. A case that the judicial authorities of the country wanted to present as suicide, while the Episcopal Conference of the country continues to repeat that Jean Marie Benoît did not commit suicide, but “was brutally murdered”.

Fides backs the data up with biographical profiles of the individual victims and with considerations that unfortunately, can no longer be ignored on the martyr connotation that marks the entire Church’s journey through history. Scrolling through the pages and stories collected in the dossier, we can see why the Church has never “complained”, or has never organized campaigns of protest or mobilizations “against” martyrdom, but has always recognized martyrs as winners, as those who share, in the benefit of their generation, the redemptive passion of Christ. Pope Francis said on 22nd April last, visiting in Rome the church of Saint Bartholomew, a shrine to the martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries – “the Church is a Church of martyrs.” And the martyrs are those who... have had the grace to confess Jesus until the end, until death. They suffered, they gave their lives, and we receive the blessing of God for their witness.” In this regard, Fides attests how the memory of the sacrifice of pastoral care workers is renewed over time, becoming support and encouragement for communities to continue their tracks. Among other stories, he recalls the story of Father Juan Heraldo Viroche who was well known in the area for his fight against drug trafficking and was found dead in his home in Tucuman, about 70 km from the capital of Argentina, 5 October 2016. One year after his death, the mass in suffrage of Father Viroche was concelebrated by many priests working with children struggling with drug addiction, and saw a huge presence of young people.

The Fides dossier also recalls the case of the Dutch Lazarist bishop Frans Schraven and of the eight European missionaries, killed by Japanese soldiers 80 years ago, for having tried to protect more than 200 Chinese girls that the military wanted as sex slaves. This year, in memory of their martyrdom, scholars and professors from the Institute of Institute of Christian Studies of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences that organized a symposium “The Conference on the 80th Anniversary of Zhengding Church Massacre at the start of the anti-Japanese War” in Beijing on 25 October, in collaboration with the Faith Cultural Society of the Catholic Church.

Among the causes of beatification concerning killed pastoral care workers, Fides recalls that of Combonian Ezechiele Armin, who on 25 March last saw the conclusion of his diocesan phase of the cause of beatification. Ezechiele, killed in Brazil on 24 July 1985, had arrived a year earlier from Italy and was destined to Cacoal, in Rondonia, “where he takes the problem of indigenous land distribution at heart. Fr. Ezechiele was brutally killed on 24 July 1985 as he was returning from a mission of peace: he had met some landless farmers who had occupied part of the Fazenda Catuva, on the border with the state of Mato Grosso, and had asked them to withdraw”. A few days later Pope John Paul II describes him as a “martyr of charity”. The Fides dossier also recalls that on 13 April last, on Holy Thursday, the Archbishop of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, announced the opening of the diocesan phase of the cause of beatification of Fr. Jacques Hamel, who was killed on the morning of July 26, 2016 while he was celebrating Mass in the church of Saint Etienne du Rouvray, in Normandy, by two militiamen of the Islamic State. Pope Francis granted a dispensation to open, a few months after his death, the diocesan phase of his Beatification process. The story of the defenseless and elderly French priest murdered before the altar of the Eucharist also shows, in its most elementary terms, what Christian martyrdom really is. It also helps to overcome the forgetfulness that sometimes seems to veil even that unequalled trait of Christianity around the world. A blanket of misunderstandings fueled not only by jihadist propaganda - which exalts suicide bombers as “martyrs” - but also by certain ideas continually relaunched by the network of apparatus and opinion makers full-time mobilized in defense of persecuted Christians.

Sat, 12/30/2017 - 13:59
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