Pastoral Workers: 26 Killed in Service to Church

CIRCLE OF LIFE. Health workers at prayer as they start their shift in Monrovia, Liberia, in September.

Pope Francis expressed his “deep sadness” and condolences on Jan. 1 to the ecclesial community of the Diocese of Altamirano in Mexico after the murder of the Rev. Gregorio López Gorostieta, before urging “the priests and other missionaries of the diocese to continue their ecclesial mission with ardor despite the difficulties, following the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.”

According to the diocese, Father López Gorostieta’s body was found on Christmas Day, dumped in an alley in Ciudad Altamirano. Though authorities have yet to identify any suspects or even a motive for the killing, Father López Gorostieta had recently been preaching against organized crime.

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Father López Gorostieta’s abduction provoked more outrage in the State of Guerrero, which is still reeling from the disappearance and apparent murder of 43 student-teachers just a few months earlier. “We are tired of pain and delinquency, injustice and corruption,” Altamirano’s Bishop Maximino Martínez Miranda told the media. “We want the incidents…as well as the death of so many people in Guerrero state [to be clarified]. We live in a moment of violence.”

Another Altamirano priest, the Rev. Ascensión Acuna Osorio, was murdered in September. The two killings contribute to another grim year for Catholic pastoral workers in Latin America and around the world. In its annual survey, Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, reports that 26 pastoral workers were killed in 2014—three more than in the previous year—and 18 others were taken by the Ebola virus while responding to that devastating crisis in Africa. While news stories last year depicted the brutal persecution of Christians in Iraq, Syria and throughout the Middle East, it is actually in the Americas where the most deaths of Catholic pastoral workers took place in 2014.

According to Fides, 17 priests, one religious brother, six religious women, a seminarian and a lay person were killed last year. Most of the murders were committed during robberies, but, the report adds, many of these robberies were carried out with such “brutality and ferociousness” that they are signs of intolerance and “moral degradation” as well as “economic and cultural poverty.”

For the sixth year in a row, the majority of the murdered pastoral workers worldwide, 14, were killed in the Americas. Breaking the statistics down by continent, Fides reports that 12 priests, one brother and one seminarian were killed in the Americas; seven—two priests and five sisters—were killed in Africa; two—a Jesuit priest in Syria and a woman religious in Malaysia—died in Asia; a priest and a lay collaborator were murdered in Papua New Guinea; and in Europe, an Italian priest was beaten to death in his rectory.

The survey drew special attention to four members of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God, a religious sister and 13 lay workers who died at Catholic hospitals in Liberia and Sierra Leone after contracting Ebola. These 18 “gave their lives for others like Christ,” said Jesús Etayo Arrondo, prior general of the Hospitallers.

The fates of five kidnapped priests remains unknown, Fides said. Three Assumptionist priests were kidnapped in the North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo in October 2012; the Italian Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio was kidnapped in Syria in 2013; and an Indian Jesuit, Alexis Prem Kumar, director of Jesuit Refugee Service in Afghanistan, was kidnapped in June outside a J.R.S.-run school in Herat.

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