VATICAN CITY, MARCH 24, 2002 (ZENIT.org).- On a day of remembrance for martyred missionaries, John Paul II paid tribute to the men and women who have died while spreading the Gospel.
Before praying the Angelus with pilgrims who had gathered in St. Peter´s Square for Palm Sunday Mass, the Holy Father mentioned the 10th Day of Prayer and Fasting in memory of fallen missionaries. It is held on the anniversary of the 1980 murder of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero of San Salvador.
Addressing the young people in the square, the Pope spoke of the “consistency” and “courage” of those men and women who gave their life for Christ, and encouraged his listeners to “make fundamental decisions” for their own life.
Throughout Italy there was eucharistic adoration, Stations of the Cross, and youth vigils to mark the occasion. On Saturday afternoon, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope´s vicar for Rome, presided over Stations of the Cross for young people, which ended in the Colosseum.
The Vatican missionary agency Fides reported that the Day of Prayer and Fasting for Martyred Missionaries is now celebrated in Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Senegal, Cameroon, Uganda and South Korea.
According to Fides, between 1980 and 1990, 115 missionaries were killed while spreading the Gospel. This figure is probably low, since information is difficult to obtain and many cases are not reported.
From 1990-2000, the number of martyrs registered by Fides was 604, including 248 victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The list of martyrs in 2001 included 25 priests, five women religious, a seminarian and a consecrated laywoman.
So far this year, three missionaries have been martyred, including two in Colombia. Father Arley Arias García was shot dead Jan. 18 in an ambush while on his way to say Mass at his parish church in Florencia; Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino of Cali was killed March 16 as he was leaving church in a poor district of Cali.
Mill Hill Father Declan O´Toole of Ireland was killed last Thursday in northern Uganda.