20 Catholic missionaries killed in 2023


According to Vatican-based Fides Agency’s, twenty missionaries, lost their lives across the world through violent death this year, two more than in 2022.

The information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies reported on Saturday that one bishop, eight priests, two men religious, one seminarian, one novice and seven laypeople were killed.

Africa leading the list

As in previous years the most deadly continents for Church workers were Africa, where nine people were killed, and the Americas where six were gave their lives.

Until 2017, the latter had led the way for 8 consecutive years, but since 2018, and with the exception on 2020, Africa has topped the list.

Two priests, a seminarian and a Benedectine novice were killed in terrorist and bandit prone Nigeria. Among the victims Father Isaac Achi, 61 years old priest who was burned alive during an attack by an armed group in his parish in the diocese of Minna, ventral Nigeria.

Also in Africa, two missionaries were murdered in Burkina Faso; one priest was killed in an attack in his parish in Tanzania, a religious brother and a parish priest were stabbed in  Cameroons and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) respectively.

Six missionaries killed in Mexico and the United States

Mexico again endured the bulk of missionary murders in the Americas this year, with two priests and two young catechists killed in the context growing drug-related insecurity in the country.

Two brutal missionary murders were also reported in the United States,  where Bishop David O’Connell, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, was killed by the husband of his housekeeper who confessed the crime, and in mid-December Fr. Stephen Gutgsell, a priest at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, died after been stabbed in the rectory of the Church.

In Asia four Catholic lay people were murdered in 2023.  Two Filipino Catholic students, were among the victims of the recent bombing attack during a Mass at  Mindanao State University in Marawi City which killed four people and wounded  several others. Junrey Barbante and Janine Arenas, were volunteers from the university chaplaincy community where they were involved in liturgical animation.

In war-hit Gaza, Nahida Khalil Anton and her daughter Samar Kamal Anton  and her mother, two active parishioners of the  Holy Family Catholic Parish  church were killed by snipers on December 16 as they were walking to the adjacent Convent of the Sisters of Mother Theresa. They both belonged to a group of Catholic and Orthodox women working for the poor and the disabled in the Strip.

Another lay person was also killed in Spain earlier this year. Diego Valencia, sacristan of the parish of Nuestra Senora de La Palma, in Algeciras, in the province of Cadiz, was stabbed in January by a young Moroccan armed with a machete, who also injured other people.

In the introduction to the report Fides explained that it used the term  ”missionary” in a broad sense referring to “all the baptized engaged in the life of the Church” in which by virtue of their Baptism “all the members of the People of God become missionary disciples” , and that it considered all those who died in a violent way, not only ‘in hatred of the faith’”.

The Vatican news agency noted that one of the distinctive traits that most of the victims have in common is the “ordinariness” of their lives and of the circumstances in which they were murdered: either on their way to celebrate Mass or to carry out pastoral activities in some distant community, offering their “simple evangelical witness” in difficult contexts marked by poverty, violence,  social degradation and oppression. “They could have gone elsewhere, moved to safer places, or desisted from their Christian commitments, perhaps reducing them, but they did not do so, even though they were aware of the situation and the dangers they faced every day”, it said.