WORLD: Missionaries and pastoral care workers killed in 2023

Agenzia Fides (01.01.2024) – According to information gathered by Agenzia Fides, 20 missionaries were killed in the world in 2023: 1 Bishop, 8 priests, 2 non-religious men, 1 seminarian, 1 novice and 7 laypersons.

Although the lists compiled by Fides are always open to updates and corrections, there were 2 more missionaries killed compared to the previous year. This year the highest number of missionaries killed is again registered in Africa, where 9 missionaries were killed: 5 priests, 2 religious men, 1 seminarian, 1 novice. In America, 6 missionaries were murdered: 1 Bishop, 3 priests, 2 lay women. In Asia, 4 lay men and women died, killed by violence. Finally, a layman was killed in Europe.

As it has been for some time, Fides uses the term “missionary” for all the baptized, aware that “in virtue of their Baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples. All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization” (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 120). Moreover, the annual list of Fides does not look only to Missionaries ad gentes in the strict sense but tries to record all baptized engaged in the life of the Church who died in a violent way, not only “in hatred of the faith”. For this reason, we prefer not to use the term “martyrs”, if not in its etymological meaning of “witness”, in order not to enter into the question of the judgment that the Church might eventually deliver upon some of them, after careful consideration, for beatification or canonization.

One of the distinctive traits that most of the pastoral workers murdered in 2023 have in common is undoubtedly their normal life: that is, they did not carry out any sensational actions or out-of-the-ordinary deeds that could have attracted attention and put them in someone’s crosshairs. Scrolling through the few notes on the circumstances of their violent deaths, we find priests who were on their way to celebrate Mass or to carry out pastoral activities in some distant community; armed assaults perpetrated along busy roads; assaults on rectories and convents where they were engaged in evangelization, charity, human promotion. They found themselves, through no fault of their own, victims of kidnappings, acts of terrorism, involved in shootings or violence of various kinds.

In this ‘normal’ life lived in contexts of economic and cultural poverty, moral and environmental degradation, where there is no respect for life and human rights, but often only oppression and violence is the norm, they were also united by another ‘normality’, that of living the faith by offering their simple evangelical witness as pastors, catechists, health workers, animators of the liturgy, of charity…. They could have gone elsewhere, moved to safer places, or desisted from their Christian commitments, perhaps reducing them, but they did not do so, even though they were aware of the situation and the dangers they faced every day. Naive, in the eyes of the world. But the Church, and ultimately the world itself, moves forward thanks to them, who “are not flowers sprouting in a desert”, and to the many who, like them, testify their gratitude for the love of Christ by translating it into daily acts of fraternity and hope.

Further reading about FORB in the World on HRWF website