More than 100 young Catholic missionaries died for their faith since the year 2000, according to a report issued October 6, 2018, by the Vatican Press Office.
The report, prepared by Fides News Agency, offers a dozen brief stories of missionaries killed while serving the Church during the period. And it lists another 90 who perished during the same period.
While these 102 missionaries have the common characteristics of having died for the faith and being under the age of 40, their backgrounds and stations in life varied vastly. And the site of their deaths spanned the globe. They include priests, nuns, and laypeople – professionals and volunteers.
Here is a glimpse of their stories:
- Grace Akullo, 27, a nurse, died in Uganda on November 17, 2000. She was caring for Ebola victims and was infected by the virus.
- Lita Castillo, 22, Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation, died in Chile on October 29, 2001. She was stabbed in her dormitory room, doused with flammable liquid, and set on fire.
- Alberto Neri Fernandez, 39, Focolare Movement layman, killed in Brazil on October 19, 2002. He was killed in a robbery.
- Fransiskus Madhu, 30, Verbite, killed on April 1, 2007, in the Philippines. He was shot to death while vesting for Mass.
- Sister Anne Thole, 35, a Nardini Sister, died in South Africa on April 1, 2007. She was crushed in a flaming building while trying to rescue aids patients from a fire.
- Thomas Pandippallyil, 38, Carmelite, killed in India between August 16-17, 2008. His body was found along the roadside, beaten and disfigured.
- Don Rubens Almeida Gonçalves, 34, murdered in Campo Belo, Brazil, on May 20, 2010. He was shot in the head in his parish.
- Don Marek Rybinski, Salesian, 33, killed in Tunisia on February 18, 2011. His body was found in a warehouse a day after he disappeared.
- Samuel Gustavo Gómez Veleta, seminarian, 21, killed on April 14, 2014, in Mexico. He was killed in a car theft.
- Anwar Samaan, 21 and Misho Samaan, 17, Salesian Animators, died in Syria on April 11, 2015. They were killed in a missile attack.
- Sister M. Reginette, 32, Rwandan, Missionary of Charity, murdered on March 4, 2016, in Yemen. She was the youngest of four sisters murdered and disfigured by a commando squad.
- Helena Agnieska Kmiec, 26, Salvator Missionary Volunteer killed on January 24, 2017, in Bolivia. She stabbed to death during a robbery.
At the end of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, which introduced the Church into the new millennium, Pope John Paul II strongly exhorted “The missionary mandate accompanies us into the Third Millennium and urges us to share the enthusiasm of the very first Christians: we can count on the power of the same Spirit who was poured out at Pentecost and who impels us still today to start out anew, sustained by the hope “which does not disappoint”, the Fides report recalls.
Ten years previously (1990), in the encyclical “Redemptoris Missio”, John Paul II clearly affirmed that “the mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion” and called all the baptized people to this task as “the universal Church, all the particular Churches, all the ecclesial institutions and associations and every Christian has the duty to commit themselves to spreading the message of the Lord to every corner of the Earth”.
In an interview given to Fides News Agency on the occasion of the annual “Day of prayer and fasting in memory of missionary martyrs” on 24th March, Archbishop Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and President of the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) observed:
“In the ancient Church, there were many young martyrs. Thinking of them, we can say that the testimony of faith, even of blood, knows no limits: the call to the gift of life touches every baptized person, and young people can give a precious example. When you are younger you have a strong enthusiasm and willingness to give your life. There is so much generosity in the hearts of young people”. “I do not believe that today’s young people – continues the President of the PMS – are less generous than past generations. Youth, like other ages of life, has endemic weaknesses, but even the millennials, the young people of today, show generosity: just think of the experiences of young people and volunteers who go to mission countries”.
“Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus” Pope Francis repeats continually. “If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light, and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life” (Evangelii Gaudium 49).
This being “rightly disturbed” has certainly been felt by the many young people who have “gone forth” to help others, above all, the most despised, the abandoned and the forgotten, heedless of sacrificing a comfortable and, in some cases, affluent lifestyle, happy to give their life “to offer everyone the life of Jesus”. They have not let that “missionary enthusiasm” be taken, that which pushed them to go forth in the name of God and that which the young of today are called upon to embrace as a precious inheritance from their contemporaries’ bloodshed, and who continue to give life to the Church of Christ in the third millennium.