Missionary Deaths in 2001 Often Related to Fundamentalism

Today, Workers Are Seen as Easy Prey, Fides Says

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican missionary agency Fides reported that 33 missionaries were killed worldwide in 2001, though it acknowledges the list is far from complete.



The majority were victims of religious or ethnic fundamentalism, said Father Bernardo Cervellera, Fides director. This was the cause of the death of eight Catholics killed by Hindus in India. Ethnic or religious cleansing was responsible for the death of a missionary in the Philippines, and three missionaries in Africa (in Burundi, Uganda and Senegal).

All others were, at least at first glance, victims of ordinary criminals. Father Cervellera explained, however, that "often the appearance hides deeper motives."

American Sister Barbara Ann Ford, for example, worked for the development of indigenous populations and had collaborated closely with Guatemalan Bishop Juan Gerardi, a human-rights advocate who was killed three years ago.

Another victim, Italian Father Ettore Cunial, worked to free youth from the Albanian mafia, and trafficking in drugs and human organs.

"Religious fundamentalism and the fundamentalism of possession are the most profound causes of this year´s martyrology," Father Cervellera said.

"Up until 10 or 15 years ago, men and women missionaries were respected and loved as representatives of spiritual values," the priest continued. "Today they are seen only as vulnerable victims, easy to attack because missionaries do not bear arms and do not respond with vengeance."

"As opposed to the death of a journalist, a head of state, or a terrorist, the killing of these martyrs does not elicit clamor, but they are the humus of the earth," the Fides director said. "Although unnoticed, [their martyrdom] fertilizes the fields for new sowing and harvesting."

The great majority of victims were priests, although the list includes three nuns, one seminarian, one consecrated lay woman and one Catholic volunteer. Ten died in Asia, 10 in the American continent, nine in Africa, two in Oceania, and two in Europe.

Fides said the list does not include the 16 Protestant Christians killed in a Catholic church in Pakistan, the hundreds of dead in Jos and Kano in Nigeria, and those massacred in the Indonesian islands of the Moluccas and Sulawesi.