Violent deaths on the missions - 100 in four years

Sunday, January 14th, 2007

One hundred priests, religious and lay people have been killed on the missions in the last four years.

In 2006, twenty-four priests, religious and laypeople were killed working on the missions, just two less than 2005's figure of 26.  Fifteen were killed in 2004, including Irish Missionary priest, Fr John Hannon, and 35 in 2003, including Irish Bishop, Michael Courtney.

According to Fr Tom Curran, Communications Officer for the Society of African Missions (SMA),  priests and religious are aware of the potential risks of going on the missions. 

‘It is part of the essence of the mission. You are going into the unknown.  Even with modern communications, you are going into an area where you are a stranger,’ he told CInews.

He spent nineteen years on the missions in Nigeria and six in Kenya, and he too faced death on one occasion.

‘I was held up by armed robbers as I returned home one day. They held guns against my head,’ he said.

Fortunately for him, the robbers were just interested in his car, which they made off with. ‘These situations arise. We can’t condone them, but perhaps they see us as a source of money or wealth.’

Africa is the continent that registered the greatest number of victims in 2006: nine priests, a nun and a lay volunteer died violently. 

The second continent marked by violent deaths in 2006 is America, where six priests, a nun and a layman lost their lives. Two priests, a nun and a layman lost their lives in Asia and one in Oceania.

The Vatican has asked people to pray for these missionaries who gave their lives:

Fr Elie Koma, (SJ), (59) a Burundian priest, shot dead on 4th Feb in Bujumbura. He was in charge of the Jesuit church in Kamengem one of Bujumbura's poorest districts.

Fr Andrea Santoro, Fidei Revum priest from the diocese of Rome, killed in Turkey on 5 February while praying after Mass in Kilisesi.

Fr José Alfonso Moreira, (80) a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans), of Portuguese nationality, 40 years on the missions, shot at close range on 9 Feb at his home in Angola. During the 27 years of civil war,  Fr. Moreira always remained neutral, refusing any comprise so he could continue to announce the Gospel.

Fr Michael Gajere, Nigerian priest, killed by a gang of armed men in Maiduguri, Nigeria, on 18 February, during violence which erupted following a peaceful demonstration. Before being shot Fr Gajere helped the leaders of the parish youth group to reach safety.

Sr Maria Yermine Yamlean, 33, a member of the congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred (DNDSC), from the Moluccas Islands, was killed on 10 March 2006 when she caught an intruder who stabbed her to death. She was very active in pastoral care and the local Catholic Charismatic Renewal group.

Fr Eusebio Ferrao,  61, parish priest at Macasana, Goa, India, suffocated by a pillow during the night of 17 March.

Mgr Bruno Baldacci, Fidei Revum priest from the diocese of La Spezia Italy, 63, was found beaten to death on 30 March in his room at the parish in Brazil where he served as parish priest. Mgr Baldacci spent 42 years on mission in Brazil, dedicating himself in recent years to caring for the poor and young drug addicts.

Fr Luis Montenegro, aged 77, more than 30 years parish priest near Cordoba, Argentina, found dead early on 12 April. He had been stabbed to death in his sleep.

Sr Karen Klimczak, 62, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph (SSJ), killed in Buffalo, USA by one of people she was trying to rehabilitate.

Rev Galgalo Boru, a Kenyan priest from the parish of Bulesa, Kenya, killed in April by bandits who attacked his car opening fire on both sides of the road. A passenger in the car was also killed.

Rev Jorge Piñango Mascareño, under secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Venezuela, found dead on Monday 24 April in Caracas.

Rev Josè Carlos Cearense, Brazilian parish priest aged 44, stabbed to death on 8 May in his room in the parish house next to his parish church.

Rev Jude Kimeli Kibor, Kenyan priest, 57, involved in prison pastoral care. He was found dead on 11 May near Eldoret, probably killed by thieves while on his way to say Mass. Fr Kibor studied in the USA, but although aware of the risks, returned to Kenya to help his own people.

Friar Luis Alfonso Herrera Moreno, Franciscan (OFM) Colombian 46, stoned to death in Bonda, Colombia. He was bursar to a  Franciscan college.

Rev John Mutiso Kivaya, 35, Kenyan priest,  was murdered at Tala by bandits who attacked him and a few other people having dinner in a restaurant. Fr  Kivaya was in on his way to visit his family.

Rev Chidi Okorie, a Nigerian priest, 31, stabbed to death during a robbery on the night of 4 August in his room at the priests house near the parish church in Ebonyi State, Nigeria. Fr Okorie had only been a priest for two years, having been ordained in 2004.

Brother Augustine Taiwa, 40, a member of the St John of God Brothers was killed in the evening of Monday 28 August, when a drunken youth threw a spear through the window of his car, killing him instantly near Port Moresby,  in Papua New Guinea.

Sr Leonella Sgorbati, Italian Consolata Missionary  66, shot to death on 17 September in Mogadishu, Somalia, by two gunmen hidden behind a car waiting for her as she made her way to the hospital where she worked.

Rev Ricardo Antonio Romero, 53, Salvadorian, beaten and stoned to death and abandoned in the early hours of 25 September on the road which goes from Acajutia to Sonsonate, El Salvador. Rev Romero, a parish priest, was known for his tireless work to evangelise and to assist the poor.

Rev Pascal Kane Noonan, aged 51, born of Animist parents in the Ivory Coast. Baptised at 12, he later joined the New Catechumen Way and became a priest, doing his training in Peru. He was shot during a robbery at the parish in Divo, Ivory Coast   on 31 October. He spent much time helping school drop outs to specialise in a trade.

Fr Waldyr dos Santos, Brazilian Jesuit, aged 69 and lay volunteer Ms Idalina Neto Gomes, aged 30, were killed and other persons were wounded in an attack on Angone Residence in Tete Province in Mozambique on Monday 6 November.

Jacob Fernandez, a lay Catholic, who worked in a Religious Bookshop at the Shrine of Mount St Thomas in Chennai, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu was murdered November 26. He was attacked and killed for no reason in front of a crowd of terrified eyewitnesses present in the bookshop. Mr Fernandez was known as a devout Catholic who attended daily Mass at the Shrine and lived his life as a mission.

Johnny Morales, aged 34, Salesian Cooperator in Guatemala was killed on 8 December in an ambush. The vehicle in which he was travelling was sprayed with bullets and Mr Morales died instantly. He and his wife, also a Salesian Cooperator, helped at the Fr Sergio Checchi Salesian Centre. They had been married for a year.

While the  Vatican Congregation explicitly avoids using the term ‘martyrs’ for these people so as not to prejudge a decision the Church might eventually make on them, Fr Curran from the Society of African Missions sees a strong link between martyrdom and missionary activity. 

‘Martyrs give their blood for the faith.  Missionaries give their lives. Spending your life in the world of mission can be a type of martyrdom. I know there are different circumstances surrounding the deaths, but very often a person is killed because they are a priest or missionary.’

The SMA Fathers, founded in Ireland just over 150 years ago, has sent around 3,000 priests to the African missions, including around 1,200 from Ireland. Currently they have 200 seminarians, mostly in Africa, though one is from Ireland.

Picture shows Fr John Hannon SMA who was killed in 2004 in Kenya.