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James Martin, S.J.October 29, 2008

From the Press Office of the Jesuit Curia in Rome, this morning:


Two Jesuits, Fathers Otto Messmer and Victor Betancourt, killed in Moscow

On Saturday 25 October, Father Victor Betancourt, an Ecuadorian Jesuit working in the St. Thomas Philosophical, Theological and Historical Institute in Moscow, was killed in his home. Two days later, after returning from a trip abroad, Father Otto Messmer, Superior of the Russian Region, was also killed in the same place. On Tuesday 28 October, alarmed by the fact that he hadn’t heard from the two men, a fellow Jesuit who lives in another community went to visit them at home. On finding the dead bodies, he immediately contacted the police.

The police investigations have yet to come to any firm conclusions about cause of these violent deaths.

Father Otto Messmer, son of a profoundly Catholic family of German origin and a Russian citizen, was born on 14 July 1961 in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. He entered into the Society of Jesus on 1 September 1982 in Vilnius and was ordained a priest on 29 May 1988 in Riga. He took his final vows in Novosibirsk on 7 October 2001 and was appointed Superior of the Independent Region of Russia of the Society of Jesus on 13 October 2002. Two of his brothers are Jesuits: Monsignor Nikolaus, Bishop of the Kyrgyzstani city of Bishkek, and Hieronymus, from the German Province.

Father Victor Betancourt was born on 7 July 1966 in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He entered into the Society of Jesus on 14 September 1984 in Quito and was ordained a priest in the same city on 31 July 1997. He undertook his Jesuit training in Argentina, Ecuador, Germany and Italy. In 2004, he defended his doctoral thesis in Theology in the city of Rome. Since 2001, he had been responsible for those considering a vocation as Jesuits and at the time of his death he was a theology professor in the St. Thomas Philosophical, Theological and Historical Institute in Moscow.

Father General, Adolfo Nicolás SJ, issued an appeal to all Jesuits to provide assistance and support to, and demonstrate their solidarity with, the Jesuits of the Russian Region in this difficult moment. He expressed his closeness to families of the deceased and thanked the Church for issuing its condolences as soon as the news of the tragedy was made public.

Father General Nicolás urged the whole Society to pray that our fellow Jesuits rest in eternal peace and for an end of all forms of violence.


James Martin, SJ

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14 years 3 months ago
What a devastating loss to the Church, the Jesuit Order, and to the families of these priests of Christ. Perhaps this was random violence, but if they were targeted for their faith, it's a sobering reminder of the price of Christianity. May God grant eternal rest to their souls, and may He bless the Jesuit order in abundance.
14 years 3 months ago
I am very sorry to learn about the death of these Jesuits. This week I got together with an email acquaintance from Australia who is visiting the United States. My friend is Anabaptist. For the Anabaptist martyrdom is a very important religious category. Also for the Anabaptist non-violence is the ultimate way they try to understand Jesus and his message. My friend thinks that Anabaptists should become more Catholic and that Catholics should become more Anabaptist. My friend is currently becoming a Benedictine Oblate. Very coincidentally I read Peter C. Phan's book review of the book 'Ghandi and Jesus' by Terrance J. Rynne a couple of hours before I met my friend. I told about the book and the review. It appeared in the September 22 issued of America. I paid very close attention to what Phan had to say about this book. Phan writes that, 'Rynne turns to the works of four theologians: Charles Freer Andrews, an Anglican priest and a close friend of Gandhi’s; John Howard Yoder, a Mennonite theologian; Bernard Häring, a Roman Catholic moral theologian; and Walter Wink, professor of biblical interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary. Common to these four theologians is a consistent effort to understand Christian salvation in the light of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection, highlighting nonviolence as the central feature of his preaching and practice. This insight leads Rynne to offer an extensive critique of Anselm’s satisfaction theory of redemption, which in his eyes is predicated on a faulty understanding of God, lacks a biblical basis, ignores Jesus’ unique mode of ministry and glorifies human suffering.'
14 years 3 months ago
As we pray in the Byzantine-Slavonic Rite, ''May their memory be eternal!'' The Jesuits have a long and glorious history in Russia. Now, as at the time of St. Andrew Bobola, they adorn this glory with the crown and purple raiment of martyrdom. In my name and that of Fr. Deacon Christopher and the entire community of the Holy Archangel Michael I offer my deepest sympathy and heartfelt condolences to the family of the Society of Jesus. At Saint Michael's Russian Catholic Chapel, 266 Mulberry Street in Manhattan ,where several Russian Rite Jesuits have served, we will offer the Divine Liturgy for their blessed memory on this Sunday, November 2 at 11:00 A.M.
14 years 3 months ago
This is tragic news from a human perspective, these men were gifted in so many ways. Still we believe that their triumph over death is guaranteed by the Lord of life and their witness and intercession will bear even more fruit than their past labours.Given the Russian context I would be surprised if this were a random act of violence, the Catholic Church is hated and feared in equal measure by xenophobes and they were high profile targets. God bless the Jesuits, they are always in the front line. I think it would be wonderfulin light of this martyrdom if someone would write a profile of the Messmer family, they are quite extaordinary.

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