30 Missionaries Died in 2000 while Fulfilling Ministry

Three Offered Their Lives Serving Victims of Ebola Virus in Africa

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2001 (ZENIT.org).- Thirty Catholic Missionaries died during the year 2000 while carrying out their ministry. Three offered their lives while helping victims of the Ebola virus epidemic in Africa, the international agency Fides reported.



The above mentioned Vatican missionary agency published a list of "martyrs of the year 2000," among whom are 19 priests, 6 nuns, 3 seminarians, and 2 lay people (one consecrated, and the other a lay volunteer nurse). Although the newsletter uses the term "martyrs," it must be understood that this is in no way a statement concerning the possible or probable canonization of these missionaries. The term should be taken in the sense of the original Greek term, which means "witnesses."

Africa has become the most dangerous continent for missionaries. Seventeen of them lost their life in the year 2000: 4 in Uganda, 3 in Burundi, 2 in Nigeria, 2 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 12 in the Central African Republic, 1 in Angola, 1 in Zambia, 1 in the Ivory Coast, 1 in Rwanda, and 1 in Kenya.

Asia was second in numbers of missionaries who died. Four of them died last year in India, where a wave of fundamentalist persecution of Christians has been unleashed; 2 more died in the Philippines, victims of pro-Independence Muslims, 1 in Pakistan, and 1 in Indonesia.

To the above list must be added the 4 priests who lost their lives in the Americas, victims of crime (2 in Colombia, 1 in Mexico, and 1 in Jamaica), and the religious brother killed in Albania by the local mafia.

"The circumstances in which they met their deaths highlight the powder kegs of the planet: Central Africa, where diamonds and gold are worth more than life; the Asia of fundamentalism, Islamic and Hindu; the Latin America of guerrillas and drugs; the Albania of mafias and illegal trade," explained Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, director of Fides.

During the 80s "Fides" documented the killing of 115 missionaries. During the 90s and in the year 2000, the figure rose dramatically to 630.

According to Fr. Cervellera, the increase is due in large part to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which brought at least 248 victims among ecclesiastical personnel; as well as the greater speed of the media in communicating the news of the killings, even those in most remote areas.

By publishing the list, "Fides" does not wish to make a "sterile denunciation," but to "give hope. "It is known that some of them prayed for their killers and forgave them. With their death, all expressed a sign of victory over hatred and evil."

Because of this, "Fides" included 2 nuns and a volunteer nurse in their list of "martyrs" because they deliberately defied death to care for the victims of the lethal Ebola virus in Uganda.

"A body swollen, broken, and bleeding from Ebola has nothing to envy a bullet-riddled body. In our world, which tries to exorcize sister Death with euthanasia, they are proof that the only ´good death´ is the one offered out of love," Fr. Cervellera stressed.

The list does not include the hundreds ("perhaps thousands") of dead in the Moluccas, Indonesia, or the many anonymous Christians imprisoned in China, Sudan, and Rwanda, of whom nothing is known, Fr. Cervellera explained.

According to Protestant scholars, the martyrs of 2000 (including Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, and Evangelicals) number some 165,000 Christians.