"You do not go to Heaven alone." The life of self-sacrifice of witnesses to the faith, for the salvation of all

Saturday, 30 December 2023 martyrs   missionaries killed   wars  

by Gianni Valente

Rome (Agenzia Fides) - In the year that is about to end, at least twenty Catholic missionaries, and pastoral care workers were killed.
And also at the end of this year, like every year, Agenzia Fides remembers them, briefly telling their story and the circumstances of their bloody death. A customary act, repeated each time with amazement and gratitude, and not out of pure duty or habit. Because the stories mentioned again this year in the dossier edited by Stefano Lodigiani are never something "usual". We never get used to them.

This year again, as is often the case, most of them were victims of violent deaths during their ordinary lives, interwined with the lives of other people, in the course of their daily activities. In most of these bloody deaths, one cannot even discern the motive of religious hatred. They were often killed by unmotivated brutality, sometimes by blinding greed.

This year, a number brings to mind the list of missionaries killed, perhaps more than at any other time in history: many of them were killed in places and situations marked by conflict. They were killed by soldiers of regular armies, by militiamen of out-of-control armed groups, by terrorist groups, by individuals armed with machine guns in the darkened wars scattered everywhere. In the metastases spread throughout the world by the cancer of the World War that is no longer 'in pieces' and that bleeds the lives of entire peoples, as the teaching of Pope Francis stubbornly repeats.
The list of pastoral care workers killed in 2023 includes, among others, Father Isaac Achi, who died in flames during the assault by an armed group on his parish in Nigeria; Brother Moses Simukonde Sens, killed by a bullet fired by officers at a military checkpoint in the capital of Burkina Faso; Janine Arenas, 18, and Junrey Barbante, 24, Filipino students involved in the activities of the University Chaplaincy of Mindanao State University, killed by a bomb explosion in the university gymnasium, where a mass was being celebrated; Samar Kamal Anton, murdered along with her mother Nahida by an Israeli army sniper in the Catholic parish of the Holy Family, in Gaza.
As always, the testimony of Christ happens in the midst of the calamities and misfortunes of the given historical time. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble, “Tamquam scintillae in arundineto” (Book of Wisdom 3, 7).

The new world war underway demands the blood of the poor, it demands the human sacrifice of multitudes of innocent people. And the broken lives of the twenty pastoral care workers killed in 2023 intersect with the destiny of the world. They have to do with the possibility of salvation or damnation that looms on everyone's horizon. Their blood mixes with the silent and suppressed pain of the countless victims sacrificed in the new slaughterhouses of history.

Faced with the multitudes of poor souls riddled in the conflicts that tear the world apart, the twenty missionaries and pastoral care workers killed in 2023 appear as a numerically insignificant reality. And even this circumstance reveals something about how the salvation proclaimed in the Gospel occurs in the world.
In the mystery of charity which unites them to the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, the witnesses of faith who died at the hand of others also share the pain of Christ for all the innocent who suffer unjustly. The gift of their lives reflects the abasement of Christ himself to take upon himself the miseries, wounds and expectations of salvation of every creature. And he manifests God's love for all, embracing even those who do not know the name of Christ and even their enemies. Because every human being, created in the image of God, remains "a brother or sister in humanity", as Father Christian de Chergé, Prior of the martyred monks of Tibhirine, said. Every brother or sister is someone for whom Christ died and was resurrected.
The Church of Rome, in view of the upcoming Jubilee, prepares to gratefully remember them too, witnesses of the faith who gave their lives following Jesus. In this way, gratitude toward them can become a jolt of prayer. To ask and implore that, in the mystery of salvation, the offering of their blessed lives bears fruits of eternal life also for the multitudes today devastated by new Massacres of the Innocent.

The chronicles say that during the funeral of the Archbishop - now proclaimed Saint - Oscar Romero, in the square in front of the Cathedral of San Salvador, crowded with people, bombs began to explode and stray bullets began to fly. Thousands of people took refuge in the Cathedral, filling it to the point of suffocation, while the nuns recited prayers for a good death. In the end, mountains of shoes, bags, glasses lost by those who fled in terror, and forty lifeless, bleeding and bruised bodies were left in the square.
Remembering that day, Samuel Ruiz García (1924-2011), the unforgettable bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas, said twenty years later in San Salvador: "You do not go to heaven alone. By going to heaven, Romero will have taken them up with him, like a constellation of martyrs." (Agenzia Fides, 30/12/2023)