“Many of the early Christians shed their blood to bear witness to the faith. Those first martyrs were followed by others down through the centuries to the present day. How can we fail to admit that even in our day in various parts of the world to profess the Christian faith demands the heroism of a martyr? And how can we fail to agree that even when there is no persecution, there is always a high price to pay for living the Gospel consistently?”
(Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus 26 December 2005)
THE NAMES OF THOSE KILLED WHILE ON MISSION IN THE YEAR 2005
Vatican City (Fides Service) – Once again this year Fides has the sad task of issuing the names of pastoral workers who died a violent death in 2005. According to the information collected, 26 Catholics were killed on mission this year one was a bishop and other 25 were priests, religious and lay people. The number is almost double that of last year 2004. As in recent years our list includes besides missionaries ad gentes in the strict sense who died a violent death also other church personnel who conscious of the risk, rather than give up their mission of witness and apostolate, sacrificed their lives. Some of them, whose bodies were found only hours or even days later, appeared to have been killed by thieves or other criminals in a social context of extreme violence, human degradation and poverty which the missionaries were committed to improving with their presence and work.
With respect for any judgement the Church may make in their regard, we ask you to remember these men and women in your prayers and to thank God for enabling them to make a generous contribution to further the growth of the Church in many different parts of the world at the service of human promotion and evangelisation.
With regard to the place of death, in 2005 the continent of America registered the highest number of Church personnel killed: 8 priests, 2 Brothers and 2 Sisters. More in detail once again this year Colombia had the highest number of victims, 4 priests and 1 woman religious. In that country where social conflict is acute the Church pays a heavy tribute for her efforts to promote social reconciliation and justice in the name of the Gospel and the victims of the long and bloody conflict included also two Catholic priests “mistakenly” murdered by guerrillas. In Mexico two priests working in areas of extreme poverty, violence and illegal trafficking were killed. In Brazil a woman religious, a member of the Pastoral Land Commission in support of farm labourers and two priests were killed. In Jamaica two missionary Brothers working to alleviate the suffering of the poor, were killed in their community in the capital Kingston by the same bullet: a sign of the situation of violence and insecurity in that city.
Africa was bathed in the blood of one missionary bishop, 6 priests and a layman. All 8 were murdered in their homes probably victims of criminals in search of easy money, or deliberately eliminated with bloody ferocity in Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville and Nigeria. Among them a courageous Congolese priest Rev Francois Djikulo savagely murdered with the lay man who accompanied him on a peace mission to convince feared rebel chief Kyungu Kyungu, alias Gedeon, to disarm and stop terrorising the local people.
The continent of Asia also paid its tribute of blood to the cause of the Gospel in 2005, 3 Catholic priests were killed in India and 1 in Indonesia. One of the Indians, Rev Ignazio Bara, a martyr of peace, was killed while trying to prevent open conflict between a community of Tribals and a group of Hindu extremists in an area afflicted by inter-ethnic tension and disputes.
Also in Europe two Catholic priests died a violent death: one of them was assisting immigrants and anyone who came knocking at his door in Brussels and the other was rebuilding a parish community not far from Moscow in Russia.
Lastly and not to be forgotten, many more possible “unknown soldiers of the faith” 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 to the list of names for this year or any previous year. (S.L.) (Agenzia Fides 30/12/2005)
Fr Thomas Richard Heath, Dominican, from the USA, aged 85, on mission for 13 years in Kenya after 10 in South Africa and Lesotho, he died on 13 January 2005 of gun shot wounds suffered on January 4 during a robbery in the Community House in Kisumu where he was living. A deeply appreciated preacher and teacher, he formed whole generations of Kenyan priests. In his Community he was admired for his fidelity to the religious life and his genuine concern for others. (see Fides 19/1/2005)
Rev Thomas Harsidiyono, 50, Indonesian, found dead in his parish at Purworejo (central Java) on 14 January 2005. Probably murdered by thieves, he died of serious head injuries. People who knew the priest said he had no enemies and had not received threats of any kind.
Rev Jan Hermanovsky, 70, Slovakian, killed on 20 January 2005 by two young thieves who broke into the parish house in the town of Brjansk (Russia). Rev. Jan was committed to promoting Christian unity and totally dedicated to helping the poor and the outcasts. He used to go in person to the local railway station to take food to the homeless. He gave everything he had to the poor. He studied for the priesthood in Italy, where he was ordained a priest and ministered until 1995, before he returning to Slovakia. In 1998 opted to go to the Russian Federation where priests were needed for the Catholic communities coming to life again. For a time he worked in a Catholic parish at Oriol in Moscow. He was then sent to the town of Brjansk to reorganise the old Catholic parish. (see Fides 25/1/2001)
Rev Manuel Delgado, OFM, 42, found dead on 6 February 2005 in the town of Bufalo, Ciudad Jiménez, Chihuahua state in Mexico following an anonymous phone call. According to the post mortem the priest died on 5 February of numerous stab wounds and the body showed signs of torture. The priest, who was wearing civilian clothes when he was killed, was from Tampico, Tamaulipas, north Mexico. He was parish priest of the church of Santo Cristo de Burgos. According to the investigators the attackers were thieves.
Sr Dorothy Stang, 73, born in the United States of America naturalised Brazilian a Sister of Notre Dame. She was shot dead on 12 February 2005 40 km from the town of Anapu, in the western Brazilian state of Parà. For over twenty years Sister Stang had been a member of the local diocesan Pastoral Commission for Land Rights in support of peasant labourers in the Trans Amazon region of Para state. Because she courageously denounced fazendeiros and grileiros for violence she had received many threats to her life since 1999. She had in fact filed a report of the threats received on February 9 only a few days before she was assassinated. In recognition of her work to help the poor in 2004 she was made an honorary citizen of Para and for her work to promote respect for human rights she received the José Carlos Castro Award presented by the Brazilian Association of Lawyers. (see Fides 15/2/2005)
Rev Mathew Uzhuthal, Vicar general of the diocese of Patna, Bihar state, he died on May 1 of stab wounds suffered on 11 April in his parish office. The assassin was a local youth in search of money. He was at first rushed to the small local Nazareth Hospital, and then later moved to the more specialised Kurji Holy Family Hospital. He died after an agony of 19 days and will be remembered as a passionate and tireless missionary. Mathew Uzhuthal was from Kerala and moved the Patna diocese in 1953. He was ordained a priest in 1964 by Pope Paul VI during an International Eucharistic Congress in Bombay. In forty years of ministry he served in various parishes, assisted families in need and taught doctrine at the Diocesan Centre for Catechesis. (see Fides 15/4/2005; 16/4/2005; 7/5/2005)
Fr René de Haes, 72, a Belgian Jesuit, shot dead by two armed men in the late evening of 7 May 2005 while he was driving back to the college where he was living in Kimwenza district in northern Kinshasa capital of Democratic Congo. In Africa since 1959, he was known for his activity as a teacher and as the author of various theological works, Traditional African religions and pseudo religious sects. He was also very active in the social field.
Rev Robert De Leener, 54 from Brussels in (Belgium) murdered during the night of 4 June by an immigrant waiting for a residence permit who had been staying at the parish house. Fr De Leener was parish priest at Holy Cross parish Watermael-Boitsfort, Brussels and helped at other parishes. The immigrant had been sent away from the parish house the day before for bad conduct. He returned the next day and stabbed the priest to death in front of the victim’s elderly mother. Parishioners said the priest was too good and opened to door to anyone who asked for help.
Bishop Luigi Locati, vicar apostolic of Isolo, north east Kenya, shot dead on 14 July 2005, in front of the local Pastoral centre. Bishop Locati, aged 77 was from the Italian diocese of Vercelli and had been on mission in Kenya for forty years where he was sent as a Fidei Donum priest. He was about to retire having reached the age limit. Even as a bishop he continued to live very simply. He was known as a man of honesty and a champion of justice. Having received several death threats Bishop Locati had to be accompanied by two body guards when he went out in the evening. (see Fides 15/7/2005)
Rev. Luis Enrique Rojas, 76, from Andes, Antioquia-Colombia, parish priest at Santa Marta cathedral Barranquilla-Colombia, he died after three week of agony on 21 July 2005 of injuries inflicted by criminals at the parish house on July 2. Apparently no locks were broken and nothing was stolen from the house. For 25 years parish priest of the cathedral, Rev. Rojas was known for his assistance to the poor. He was attacked six months earlier on 8 December 2004 but with less violence.
Rev Paulo Henrique Machado, 36, Brazilian, assistant co-ordinator for pastoral in Nova Iguacu district, killed by a commando on 25 July 2005. His body was found in his automobile under a railway bridge in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Although the priest’s wristwatch, mobile and wallet were missing, he was probably murdered by local criminals for his activity to promote respect for human rights. He was known as a happy and committed priest who instilled peace among the poor people he served. He was part of a support-group for families of the victims of a massacre in the Nova Iguacu district one of the most violent in the capital and had repeatedly denounced drug traffickers for abuse.
Rev Godwin Okwesili, 42, Nigerian, killed on 2 August 2005 at St. Dominic Catholic Church in Yaba, Lagos (Nigeria). In the afternoon three young men appeared at the priests’ house under the pretence of delivering a parcel to one of the priests and started an argument. When Fr Okwesili came out of his room to see what was happening he was shot dead in the doorway.
Rev Jesus Adrian Sanchez, 32, Colombian from the diocese of Espinal (Tolima), parish priest at El Limon, killed on 18 August 2005 while giving a class of religious instruction at Camacho Angarita school in the rural area of Chaparral (Tolima). Around 10 in the morning a man broke into the classroom, ordered the priest to go outside and shot him dead. The priest was involved in the pastoral care of local youths whom he tried to persuade not to join the ranks of the guerrillas and criminals but to continue studies. The President Colombian Bishops’ Conference issued a statement condemning the murder as a “violent and sacrilegious act”, imploring the criminals to convert their hearts and calling on the people of Colombia to pray for the strength to “overcome the culture of violence and death which has no respect for the lives of those who build peace and bear witness to the truth and the life”.
Rev Vicente Rozo Bayona, 50, and Fr Jesus Emilio Mora, 65, Colombian priests of the diocese of Ocaña, parish priests of the only two parishes in Convencion, killed in the morning of 15 August 2005 on the way to a celebration. The car in which they were travelling was attacked by guerrillas on the Teorema-Convencion road, El Diviso area, in Colombia. The priests and two passengers, surveyors charged with building an army barracks in the area, were shot dead by machine gun fire. The following day the ELN guerrillas issued a statement claiming responsibility for the murder but stating that it was a tragic mistake due to the conflict in the area. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Colombia issued a statement condemning the “atrocious crime”, “violent and sacrilegious act”, attack on the “aspirations for reconciliation and peace preached by the Church”.
Rev Francois Djikulo, Congolese priest of the diocese of Manono (Democratic Congo). In August on his own initiative he went on a peace mission to try to convince the feared rebel leader Kyungu Kyungu, alias Gedeon, to disarm and stop terrorising the local people. For months nothing was heard of his whereabouts. Only in November was it known that Fr Djikulo and his companion Simon Kayimbi had been savagely mutilated and then burned alive in Mutendele, district of Pweto, about 75 km from the parish of Dubie diocese of Kilwa Kasenga. (see Fides 21/11/2005 - 23/11/2005)
Rev Mathew Nellickal, 65, Vicar general of the diocese of Tezpur, India, found dead in the Diocesan Centre on the morning of 3 September. He was probably killed around 9.30pm on 2 September. The priest’s body was found by co-workers concerned when he failed to appear for mass the next day. Fr. Mathew had been stabbed at least ten times in the head and various other parts of the body. Police said the priest may have known his murderer since the residence showed no signs of breaking and entering. The priest came from Palai, in Kerala. He joined the Salesians and made his profession as a lay brother. Some years later he asked to study for the priesthood and was ordained for the diocese of Tezpur of which he was appointed vicar general in February this year. For 30 years he had ministered in Assam. He had been headmaster of Don Bosco High School, rector of the minor Seminary and parish priest. Local church sources say the priest was a man at peace with all. He was loved by everyone and went out of his way to serve all irrespective of caste or race, social standing or religion.
(see Fides 6/9/2005)
Rev Giuseppe Bessone, fidei donum priest from the Italian diocese of Pinerolo stabbed to death during the night of 2 September 2005in his lodgings at St Antonio parish at Blumenau (Brazil) where he was parish priest. The murderer, a 16 year old boy who had been taken in by the priest was arrested. He told the police that he attacked the priest because he wanted money. Rev Giuseppe was ordained on 25 June 1967. After ministering for a few years in the diocese of Pinerolo, in 1975 he was sent as fidei donum priest to Brazil and was assistant priest at the parish of Our Lady of Glory in Blumenau. Later he was parish priest at Our Lady of Fatima in Joinville then St Ines in Indasal and more recently St. Antonio in Blumenau. He had only just returned to Brazil after a short period of rest in Italy. (see Fides 6/9/2005)
Fr Angelo Redaelli, 40, of the Lombardy province of Friars minor was killed by a mob on 12 September 2005, after accidentally killing a little child with his car who ran unexpectedly into the road as he drove through a village 30km from Owando in central north Congo Brazzaville. Fr. Angelo had been on mission in Congo for two years and was well accepted among the people. Lately he had worked mainly in the parish of Mekua north of Owando not far from the village where the sad episode took place. He worked mainly with street children organising basic healthcare and training catechists. He was killed while on his way to a local School for Catechists. (see Fides 13/9/2005)
Rev Ignatius Bara, 48, killed while trying to prevent fighting between a community of Tribals and a group of Hindu extremists on 12 September 2005, in an area known for inter-ethnic tension and disputes in the diocese of Simdega in the north east Indian state of Jharkhand. The priest, who was headmaster of Banabira Middle School at Simdega, tried to settle a public dispute. In Simdega a Tribal association Adivasi Adhikar Rashka Manch organised a meeting to discuss the next local elections and elect political representatives. The meeting was in from claiming their rights. Rev. Ignatius stepped in to defend the Tribals and calm the attackers and the crowds dispersed. However later in the day the priest was stabbed to death by two men on a motorcycle. (see Fides 13/9/2005)
Rev Luis Velasquez Romero, 51, a Mexican priest from the diocese of Tijuana, found in a car at a shopping centre in the morning of 25 October 2005 shot dead with his hands tied. The priest who ministered in a parish in the Colinas district of Agua Caliente de Tijuana was a judge of the Diocesan Court and was much loved by the people. Tijuana a town on the border with the United States is known as a centre of urban violence and clashes between gangs of drug traffickers.
Brother Suresh Barwa, 31, and Brother Marco Candelario Lasbuna, 22, murdered in Kingston, Jamaica, 27 October. The Brothers were Missionaries of the Poor MOP, a congregation of diocesan right whose members work among the poor and excluded people in Jamaica, and also in India, Uganda and the Philippines. The Brothers were with other people in the kitchen of Corpus Christi MOP House in central Kingston. The Brothers were shot dead by the same bullet as they washed up after a party for one of the confreres. Brother Marco from the Philippines had been in Kingston for 5 months and Brother Suresh from India had been there for two years.
Sr Margarita Vásquez Sandino, 87, a Good Shepherd Sister, killed while caring for sick Sister at the community home on 11 November 2005 in Medellin, Colombia. She was attacked by a young man who had done some painting work for the Sisters and who probably intended to steal. Sr Margarita organised a regular Christmas campaign in aid of children mutilated by antipersonnel mines.
Fr Philip Valayam, 46, Salesian priest (SDB) killed in the early hours of December 25 as he was returning to his community at Don Bosco Youth Educational Services, Nairobi, Kenya, after celebrating midnight mass. Reportedly the priest was attacked by robbers and shot in a struggle to defend himself. Fr Valayam was well known and appreciated. Born in Koodaranhi-Calicut, India, he was ordained a priest in 1988. He joined the East Africa Inspectorate in 1995 and was sent as a missionary to Tanzania. In 2001 he was transferred to Nairobi in Kenya.