ROME, JAN. 1, 2006 (Zenit.org).- A bishop, 20 priests, two men religious, two women religious and a layman were added to the list of pastoral mission agents who met violent deaths last year.
Those 26 deaths compare with 15 recorded in 2004. The new figure appears in the “Martyrology of the Contemporary Church,” published by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
It refers not only to missionaries in the strict sense of the term, but also to all the Church personnel who were killed or sacrificed their lives as part of their witness to the faith.
The highest number of victims was registered in the Americas, with the loss of eight priests, two women religious and two men religious.
“Colombia, with four priests and one nun killed, is still the nation where social conflicts are most acute and where the Church pays a heavy price for its commitment to reconciliation and social justice in the name of the Gospel,” noted the dicastery.
“Two more priests were killed in Mexico,” it said. “They had been working in areas of profound degradation.”
U.S.-born Sister Dorothy Stang, 73, of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, died on Feb. 12 in Brazil. She has carried out her apostolate for 40 years in small communities of the interior of the Amazon region.
She was shot in the back at point-blank range by two gunmen in the Esperanca settlement, in the southwestern state of Para. Less than one week earlier she had reported death threats by four farmers of the area.
On Oct. 27 members of the Missionaries of the Poor, a religious congregation of diocesan right, were killed in Kingston, Jamaica. Suresh Barwa, 31, a native of India, and Filipino Marco Candelario Lasbuna, 22, fell victims of a bullet to the head while they were working in the kitchen of a Missionaries of the Poor house.
The report, moreover, that “Africa was bathed with the blood of a bishop, six priests and a layman.”
The victim were either killed “probably by criminals looking for easy money,” “or deliberately eliminated with bloody ferocity in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo- Brazzaville, and Nigeria.”
Among those who died in Africa was Father Thomas Richard Heath, 85, a U.S.-born Dominican religious. He died Jan. 13, days after being attacked during an attempted robbery at a religious house in Kisumu, Kenya.
Added to the list of those killed was Swiss Ursuline Sister Margaret Branchen, 74, an obstetric nurse, who died Dec. 28. She was attacked at a clinic where she worked in Ngqeleni, near Mthatha, in South Africa. The police believe the crime was committed in a robbery attempt. News of her death was made known Friday, according to the Missionary Service News Agency.
Four priests lost their lives in Asia because of the Gospel: three in India and one in Indonesia, the report said.
Belgium was also the scene of the murder of a priest, as was Russia.