Martyred Missionaries Witness to Christ, Says Pope

Observes Day in Memory of Those Killed for the Gospel

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 24, 2004 ( John Paul II honored the memory of missionaries killed last year and presented them as witnesses of Christ, the only Savior of the world.

The Day of Martyred Missionaries, promoted by the Missionary Youth Movement of the Pontifical Missionary Societies, was observed today, the anniversary of the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador.

At the end of the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope said that he hoped the observance would be «for each one a propitious occasion to rediscover faith in Christ, only Savior, and to reinforce hope in a more just and fraternal world.»

In his weekly address to pilgrims, which he dedicated to consecrating a strife-torn world to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Father mentioned the «martyr missionaries,» including them among the defenseless victims of violence.

On this day of martyrs, he said, «we cannot but remember the priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful deceased in mission land in the course of 2003. So much blood continues to be spilt in many regions of the world.»

«The need is still urgent,» the Pope added, «for people to open their hearts to a courageous effort of reciprocal understanding. The hope for justice and peace is ever greater in every part of the earth.»

«How can we respond to this thirst for hope and love other than by taking recourse to Christ, through Mary?» the Holy Father asked.

For the Day of Martyred Missionaries, the Vatican agency Fides of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples updated the list of missionaries who died in 2003.

The list reckons that 35 missionaries died last year, although sources of the same congregation say there could be more.

Among the victims is Archbishop Michael Courtney, 58, apostolic nuncio in Burundi and a champion of peace in the midst of a civil war, who was killed Dec. 29 in Minago.

Most of the missionaries listed, 22, died in Africa. Twelve died in violently in Latin America, two in Asia.

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