The new year is often a time to take stock. Macabre at times, like the one drawn up for 2021 by the pontifical missionary agency. According to data collected by Fides, 22 ministers were murdered last year in the exercise of their functions. This number remains stable compared to previous years, but which conceals significant disparities.
Among the ecclesiastical and religious staff who died in the line of duty in 2021, there are thirteen priests, one brother, two sisters, and six lay people.
The African continent is the one which paid the heaviest price in this matter, since eleven missionaries were killed there.
Africa is followed by America, where seven missionaries died violently, and then by Asia, where three missionaries lost their lives under similar conditions.
In Europe, a priest was assassinated in 2021 - in France - by the Rwandan asylum seeker he was sheltering, a criminal whom the French justice system had decided to release, although he had admitted to being there at the origin of the fire that ravaged part of Nantes cathedral in July 2020.
But the data collected by Fides is only the tip of the iceberg, and certainly remains far below the reality, since it only concerns personnel who are the subject of precise data: to this partial list, is added the litany of those who, in the four corners of the planet, have suffered and paid the price of blood to have remained faithful to their faith.
Thus, the diocese of Tombura-Yambio in South Sudan, sent to the pontifical missionary agency a list of sixteen names of those killed in 2021, among which are catechists, group leaders, and pastoral ministers.
“All of these people were killed by gun violence, targeted and shot for preaching the truth, and were peacemakers,” said Bishop of Tombura-Yambio, Bishop Edward Hiiboro Kussala.
It is also South Sudan, a country ravaged by civil war, that Msgr. Paul Richard Gallagher, the Secretary of the Holy See for relations with the States, visited December 21-23, in order to prepare for a possible apostolic visit by the Sovereign Pontiff.
Likewise, the latest massacre of 35 Catholics, from the Karen ethnic group, in Myanmar, is not included in the list drawn up by Fides: on December 24, these innocent civilians, including women and young children, were burned alive in vehicles by soldiers under the orders of the junta which has ruled the country since the coup d'état of February 1, 2021.
“The fact that the bodies of those killed, burned, and mutilated, were found on Christmas Day makes this appalling tragedy even more poignant and sickening,” Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Rangoon, was moved to say on this occasion.
“While most of the world celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the inhabitants of the village of Mo So suffered the terrible shock and pain of an act of inhumanity,” added the high Burmese prelate.