Pope Francis on Sunday marked the Day of Missionary Martyrs, noting that last year, 40 missionaries were killed, the number almost doubling from the previous year.
“During 2018, throughout the world many bishops, priests, nuns and lay faithful have suffered violence,” Francis said after the weekly Sunday Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square.
“Remembering this contemporary ordeal of our brothers and sisters persecuted or killed due to their faith in Jesus is a duty of gratitude for the whole Church, but also a stimulus to courageously witness with our faith and hope in Him who from the Cross conquered hatred and violence with his love,” the pope said.
While for most of the past decade Latin America was the deadliest region for Catholic missionaries, Africa took over the mantle last year, seeing 19 priests, one seminarian and one lay woman killed in a span of 12 months.
According to Fides News Agency, “many Missionaries have lost their lives during attempted hold-ups and robberies, ferociously committed, in impoverished, degraded social contexts, where violence is the rule of life, the authority of the state was lacking or weakened by corruption and compromises, or where religion is used for other ends.”
Fides data showed that of the 40 killed, 35 were priests, 1 was a seminarian and 4 were lay people. South America saw 15 missionaries killed, including 12 priests and 3 lay people, and Asia came next with 3 priests and 1 priest in Europe.
March 24 has been marked as a “Day of prayer and fasting in memory of the Missionary Martyrs” since 1993, when the Missionary Youth Movement of the Italian Pontifical Mission Societies began marking the occasion. The day was chosen in honor of St. Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated while saying Mass on March 24, 1980.
There have been several seemingly religious and ethnicity motivated attacks recently, in places where the reasons of the attackers are not always clear.
The pontiff also prayed for these on Sunday: “We also pray for the victims of the recent inhumane attacks that took place in Nigeria and Mali. Might the Lord welcome these victims, protect the wounded, comfort the families and convert the hearts of the cruel.”
After the Angelus, Francis also prayed for Nicaragua, noting that since Feb. 27 there’s been an attempt to find a negotiated solution to the ongoing “serious socio-political crisis,” that saw some 500 people die in the past year as they protested the government of Daniel Ortega and his wife, vice-president Rosario Murillo.
“I accompany the initiative with prayer and encourage the parties to find a peaceful solution for the good of all as soon as possible,” Francis said on Sunday.
The dialogue has been on and off from the beginning, as the government and the opposition can’t agree on what the baseline for the talks should be.
The Catholic bishops in the country announced earlier this month that they would not be taking part in the talks despite having played a key role in the previous round last year, which took place in the seminary in Managua.
However, the latest round did have one Catholic participant: The papal representative to the country, Polish Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.