2004's Martyrs for the Faith

Vatican Lists 15 Missionaries Who Suffered Violent Deaths

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Seventeen missionaries -- priests, religious and laity -- lost their lives in 2004 at the hands of robbers or assassins.



The Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples published statistics about the missionaries and ecclesiastical personnel who were killed or who sacrificed their lives last year, aware of the dangers they faced in carrying their apostolates and witness to the faith.

Africa registered the greatest number of deaths: five priests, and a man and woman religious. In the Americas (in Mexico, Guatemala and Chile) at least three priests died, in addition to a priest slain in Colombia.

Asia "seems to live in a special way fundamentalist tensions," the Vatican dicastery said. It said that three Catholic Pakistani youths were beaten to death under false accusations or under pressure to make them renounce the faith.

In India, a priest was found dead after suffering threats for visiting Hindu families, where he had been well-received, the congregation said.

The victims paid "a heavy price of blood … for the growth of the Church in the world, a price that rarely made it into the news, said Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Vatican congregation.

"We don't know all the motives that caused their death," the cardinal added. But "among some of them the causes for the faith were clear, which determined their witness."

"Nor can we forget the long list of slain Catholics in Iraq or the many 'unknown soldiers of the faith' in all corners of the world, of those who perhaps will never make news," the dicastery said through the Fides agency.

This was the list of slain missionaries:

-- Brother Ignacio García Alonso, headmaster of the College of the Brothers of Christian Schools, in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, was killed with a machete in his office Feb. 6.

The 63-year-old Spanish religious had spent more than 40 years as a missionary in Morocco, Niger and Burkina Faso.

-- Father César Darío Peña Garcia, 43, a parish priest at Raudal in Valdivia, Colombia, was kidnapped March 16 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). On July 30 the diocesan vicar of Santa Rosa de Osos affirmed that the local Church was certain that the priest had been killed while in captivity.

-- Comboni Father Luciano Fulvi, 76, was found dead with a stab wound March 31 in his room at the Catholic Mission of Layibi, in the outskirts of Gulu, Uganda.

The Italian missionary had been in Uganda from 1956 to 1964 and then since 1990. He was mainly involved in education and more recently in vocation work.

-- Javed Anjum, a 19-year-old Catholic Pakistani student from Quetta, died May 2 in a hospital from 26 stab wounds inflicted by a Muslim teacher and group of students from the Jamia Hassan bin Almurtaza School of Islam near Islamabad. They had tried to force him to convert to Islam.

On April 17 the students abducted Javed and tortured him for five days. They then took him to the police station and reported that he had been caught stealing. The police took Anjum to the hospital where he died of his wounds 10 days later.

-- Samuel Masih, a Catholic Pakistani youth arrested and accused of blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed in August 2003, died in hospital on May 28. He had been treated for months for injuries suffered in prison at the hands of Islamic fundamentalist prison guards.

The youth was charged with blasphemy after the owner of bookshop told the police that he saw him depositing garbage near the walls of a mosque in Lahore.

-- Father Ramon Navarrete Islas, a 56-year-old Mexican priest, was found dead in the house next to the parish church where he was serving at Ciudad Juarez.

His body was found July 6 with numerous stab wounds in the chest. Police said the murderer or murderers were robbers.

-- Servite Father Faustino Gazziero, 69, was stabbed to death July 24 at the end of evening Mass in the cathedral of Santiago, Chile.

The Italian-born priest was attacked and stabbed by a young man as the priest was returning to the sacristy. Father Gazziero went on mission to Chile in 1960. He held various duties and for some years had been president of the Santa Teresa Foundation which ran several schools in Chile.

-- Father Eusebio Manuel Sazo Urbina, 45, parish priest at the Divine Savior of the World Church in the suburbs of Guatemala City, was killed July 31.

The Guatemalan priest had been en route to the home of a sick person he was attacked by a gunman who apparently tried to steal his mobile telephone. The priest died of his wounds at a hospital.

-- Nasir Masih, Pakistani Catholic aged 26, was abducted from his home Aug. 16 in the district of Baldia Siekhupoura, 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Lahore, by a group of fundamentalist Muslims who accused him of stealing.

A few hours later the police informed the family that Masih was under arrest. Three days later the police said he had died in prison. His body showed numerous wounds and bruises.

-- Father Job Chittilappilly, 71, was found dead with numerous stab wounds Aug. 28 in his home next to the parish church of Our Lady of Grace in the village of Thuruthiparambu, Kerala, India.

The Indian priest was attacked and murdered while reciting the rosary before Mass. The Syro-Malabar rite priest had received threats and warnings to stop "proselytizing."

-- Father Gerard Fitzsimons, 63, was found dead Oct. 2 at his home next to the Church of St. Mary and St. Joseph in Colesberg, South Africa. The British priest had been on mission in South Africa for seven years and was involved in assisting the poor and people with HIV/AIDS.

-- Father Macrino Nájera Cisneros, a 42-year-old parish priest at Jilotlan, Mexico, was slain Oct. 18 during a reception following a first-Communion Mass.

He was defending a 15-year-old girl from a molester who insisted on dancing with her. The molester left the reception and returned with a gun. He shot the priest and two other people dead and wounded another girl.

-- Father Gerard Nzeyimana, 65, episcopal vicar of the Diocese of Bururi, in Burundi, was killed Oct. 19 while traveling with other people in a car from Bururi to Bujumbura.

A group of gunmen stopped the car and told the occupants to hand over money and valuables. After carefully examining the priest's identity papers they killed him in cold blood with a few shots in the head, leaving the other passengers beaten and bleeding on the roadside.

Father Nzeyimana was known for promoting peace and denouncing violence against civilians.

-- Father John Hannon, 65, a Missionary of the Society of African Missions, was found dead Nov. 25 at St. Barnaba Parish at Matasia, in the Diocese of Ngong, near Nairobi, Kenya.

According to the police a gang of men entered the parish complex around midnight after tying up the watchman. The intruders probably aimed to steal and ended up attacking and murdering the Irish-born priest, police said.

-- Father Kazimir Viseticki, 66, was killed during the night of Nov. 17. His body was found the next day bound and covered in blood in the house next to the parish where he was parish priest, St. Roko in Bosanska Gradiska, northern Bosnia Herzegovina, close to the Croatian border.

The priest was probably killed by thieves who struck him with an iron rod when they were discovered.

-- Father Javier Francisco Montoya, 45, from the Diocese of Istmina-Tado, was taken hostage by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on Dec. 8 while on his way to the town of Novita. In the region at the time there was fighting between guerrillas and paramilitary troops.

The Colombian priest was involved in pastoral work with rural and indigenous peoples in the region of Choco. On Dec. 24 the bishop of the diocese was told the priest had been executed and buried.

-- Sister Christiane Philippon, 58, regional superior of the Congregation of Notre Dame des Apôtres, was killed early Dec. 26 in Chad, on the road from Ba Hilli to N'Djamena.

Sister Christiane was traveling with three other women religious to the capital to attend in a meeting of her congregation. The car was assaulted by bandits who opened fire and shot Sister Christiane dead and wounded the other three religious.

French-born Sister Christiane had been in Chad for 20 years and for the last five had been involved in family pastoral work in the Diocese of Sahr. A year ago she was elected president of the diocesan association of women religious.