"... the true witness is the “martyr”, the one who gives his or her life for Christ, reciprocating the gift that He has made to us of Himself" - Pope Francis, Message for World Mission Day, 2022.
VATICAN, suluhdesa.com | According to information gathered by Agenzia Fides, 18 missionaries were killed in the world in 2022: 12 priests, 1 religious man, 3 religious women, 1 seminarian,1 lay person.
This year the highest number of missionaries killed is registered in Africa, where 9 missionaries were killed (7 priests and 2 religious women), followed by Latin America, where 8 missionaries were killed (4 priests, 1 religious man, 1 religious woman, 1 seminarian,1 lay person).
In Asia 1 priest was killed. In the last years, Africa and America have alternated in first place in this tragic ranking: America for 8 years from 2011 to 2021 and Africa for 3 years (2018, 2019, 2021). From 2001 to 2021, according to data in our possession, 526 missionaries have been killed in the world.
As it has been for some time, 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.
We use 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" (EG 120).
The little information on the life and circumstances that caused the violent deaths of these 18 men and women missionaries offer us images of daily life, even if in particularly difficult contexts, marked by violence, poverty, lack of justice and respect for human life. Other people who were with them often shared the same fate as the missionaries. Priests killed while they were going to celebrate Mass with the community they led, to break that bread and consecrate that wine that would have been food and life for so many faithful.
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A religious woman doctor killed at the diocese health center, ready to save the lives of other people, and who knows how many she had already saved in the past. A missionary killed during an assault on the mission: instead of thinking about saving her own life, she was concerned about the safety of the girls housed in the dormitory. Another layman, a pastoral worker, killed on his way to the church to lead a liturgy of the Word for the faithful of that area, who did not have a resident priest.
Witnesses and missionaries of life, with their lives, which they offered up to the end, out of gratitude. As Pope Francis wrote in his Message for World Mission Day 2022, "the disciples are urged to live their personal lives in a missionary key: they are sent by Jesus to the world not only to carry out, but also and above all to live the mission entrusted to them; not only to bear witness, but also and above all to be witnesses of Christ. The essence of the mission is to bear witness to Christ, that is, to his life, passion, death and resurrection for the love of the Father and of humanity".
It was undoubtedly "for the love of the Father and of humanity" that Sister Maria de Coppi spent almost sixty years of her life in Mozambique, and Sister Luisa Dell'Orto twenty years in Haiti, where she arrived after having lived her vocation in Cameroon and Madagascar. Thus the two octogenarian Jesuits Javier Campos and Joaquín Mora spent their entire priestly life in Sierra Tarahumara, the most dangerous area of Mexico due to violence linked to drug trafficking.
These are accompanied by the sacrifice of younger men and women missionaries, who shared the same spirit and the same commitment to proclaiming the Gospel in everyday gestures and actions. "Missionaries of Christ are not sent to communicate themselves, to exhibit their persuasive qualities and abilities or their managerial skills. Instead, theirs is the supreme honour of presenting Christ in words and deeds, proclaiming to everyone the Good News of his salvation, as the first apostles did, with joy and boldness. In the final analysis, then, the true witness is the “martyr”, the one who gives his or her life for Christ, reciprocating the gift that He has made to us of Himself" (ib).
Of the 18 missionaries killed in 2022, mostly priests, only three were born in countries other than those where they died, all three belonging to missionary religious institutes. The others bathed with their blood the same earth that had seen them born, grow, give themselves totally to the Lord in the consecration. If in the past the so-called "mission" territories were considered at risk for the lives of missionaries, where the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, of justice, of truth and of the dignity of every human created in the image of the Father, today in every corner of the world whoever proclaims Christ knows what this announcement entails.
But it is not about naivety, lack of experience or, on the contrary, exaltation. Missionaries and all Christians, especially in certain places, when they serve in dangerous situations and circumstances, do so "for the Father and for humanity", which overcomes all fear and hesitation. From the Cross planted on Golgotha two thousand years ago, the blood of Christ continues to flow, who gave his life for us: His blood bathes all continents, also through the free offering of many brothers and sisters who thus make entire communities grow, in the certainty that their life has not been lost, but has been given. "Christ, indeed Christ risen from the dead, is the One to whom we must testify and whose life we must share" (ib).
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