Slain Jesuit Had Worked for Land Reform in Jamaica

Canadian Received Death Threats Previously

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ROME, JUNE 24, 2001 (Zenit.org).- The Jesuit priest found slain last week in Jamaica had received death threats because of a land-reform project he worked on.



The death of Father Martin Royackers, 41, was confirmed by the General Curia of the Society.

On June 17, Father Royackers preached about Jamaica´s chronic problem of crime and violence. Since the beginning of the year, 453 people have been killed on the Caribbean island, among them three priests.

"This could happen to me," Father Royackers told his congregation. "And, if it does, I want to be buried here, among my people."

Four days later, on June 21, the Canadian Jesuit was found lying face down in a pool of blood, with a bullet in his heart, on the veranda of his office at the church.

Father Royackers was killed near St. Theresa Church, where he was pastor. The church forms part of the larger St. Mary´s Parish in Annotto Bay, a north coast town about 30 miles from Kingston.

"He was very dedicated to the people, as if he did not care about himself," said the priest´s assistant, identified only as Deacon Fernandopulle. "Food was not important, nor was his dress. He was always with the people."

Together with Father James Webb, the Jamaica regional superior of the Jesuits, Father Royackers was deeply involved in the St. Mary Rural Development Project which seeks, among other things, to put unused government land to food production.

The project is a joint effort of the local people, the Canadian Jesuits, and the Canadian International Development Agency.

In early June, the development project office received a phone call threatening the two priests with death. The caller linked the threat with the group´s application to the government to release 60 acres for local agriculture. Police advised the priests to take the threat seriously.

Father Royackers was born Nov. 14, 1959. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1978, and was ordained in 1988.

Archbishop Edgerton Clarke of Kingston lamented the loss of the priest and added: "Life in no area of society is held in any esteem or respect ... no one is safe anymore."