Vatican City (Fides Service) - Once again as the year comes to a close we give the names of men and women pastoral workers who lost their lives in a violent manner during 2006. According to the information we have this year 24 persons were killed, one less than in 2005, they were priests, religious and lay pastoral workers. As always our list comprises not only the names of missionaries ad gentes in the strict sense but also local church personnel who died a violent death, preferring to offer their lives rather than give up their witness and apostolate. Some, judging from the state of the bodies of found hours or days later, were victims of attacks, aggressions, robberies etc., in particularly violent social contexts of poverty and degradation which these “builders of peace” sought to alleviate with their presence and work.
We avoid using the term ‘martyr’ leaving this for an eventual official judgement on the part of the Church and also because of the scarcity of information on the respective lives and circumstances of death. However we ask you to pray for them and to remember their sacrifice, known to God, for all they did to foster the growth of the Church all over the world at the service of human promotion and evangelisation.
As Pope Benedict XVI said at the Angelus prayer on 24 September when he recalled one of the missionaries killed in the last year Italian Sr Leonella Sgorbati “the witness of so many Christians who humbly and silently spend their lives serving others for the sake of the Lord Jesus, behaving in practice as servants of love, and hence, "artisans" of peace. Sometimes, certain people are asked for the supreme testimony of blood… There is no doubt that following Christ is difficult, but, as he says, only those who lose their life for his sake and the Gospel's will save it (cf. Mk 8: 35), giving full meaning to their existence. There is no other way of being his disciples, there is no other way of witnessing to his love and striving for Gospel perfection.”
Africa was the continent where most of the missionaries were killed: 9 priests, 1 woman religious and one lay woman missionary. The country with the highest number was Kenya, 3 Catholic priests died a violent death, followed by Nigeria, where 2 priests were killed. The only woman religious killed in Africa in 2006 was Italian Consolata Missionary Sr Leonella Sgorbati who died in Mogadishu, Somalia; the only lay woman missionary, Ms Idalina Neto Gomes from Portugal, died in Mozambique.
The second continent for number of church personnel killed in 2006 was America, where 6 priests, 1 Brother and 1 lay man, a Salesian Cooperator, died a violent death. In Brazil the local Church paid a double tribute of blood. Among those killed in America, a Catholic nun from the United States involved in promoting social rehabilitation of former prisoners and killed by one of the latter and layman Salesian Cooperator killed in Guatemala, most probably because he refused a bribe.
Asia was bathed in the blood of 2 priests, one woman religious and one Catholic layman. A parish priest and a lay man were killed in India and a woman religious was killed in Ambon, in the Moluccas, in recent years the scene of conflict and violence. An Italian missionary priest, from the diocese of Rome, Rev. Andrea Santoro, was killed in Turkey while kneeling in prayer after Mass.
The Church in Oceania also paid a tribute of blood with a St John of God Brother killed in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Lastly and not to be forgotten, many more possible “"unknown soldiers" as it were of God's great cause” (TMA 37 John Paul II) in remote corners of the planet whose death may never be reported. We hope their number is small and welcome information in this regard and also any corrections with regard to the list of names for this year or any previous year. “With special spiritual closeness I think of “Catholics who remain loyal to the See of Peter refusing to compromise, at times at the price of much suffering. The whole Church admires their example and prays they will have the strength to persevere knowing that their tribulations are a source of victory, although at the moment they might appear as defeat” (Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus 26 December 2006). (S.L.) (Agenzia Fides 30/12/2006)