The Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of People and the FIDES news service published on December 30 its roster of missionaries who died violently while spreading the Gospel in 2006. According to the Congregation, 24 priests, professed religious, and lay people were murdered in various parts of the world. The document does “not intentionally use the word ‘martyrs’” so as not to anticipate in any way the judgement of the Vatican as to their eventual beatification or canonization as saints.
Africa, where both Islam and Christianity are making great leaps in gaining adherents, was where the majority of the murders of these Christian witnesses took place. In 2006, nine priests, one nun, and one lay volunteer were murdered even while they were conscious of the risks they took as evangelists. Kenya witnessed the murder of three priests this year, Nigeria saw two dead. Sister Leonella Sgorbati, a missionary nun of the Consolata order, was the only religious sister murdered in Africa; a laywoman missioner from Portugal was also murdered in Africa this year. The world total was one less than 2005.
In the Americas, there were 6 priests murdered, along with one religious sister and one lay missioner. Asia witnessed the murder of two priests, one religious sister and one lay missionary. Of these, the name of Father Andrea Santoro is notable: while the priest was praying in his chapel, he was murdered by a Muslim teenager in Turkey in advance of the Pope’s pastoral visit. To this list was added another religious, murdered in Papua New Guinea.
The Congregation also made note of the thousands of other Christians around the world who, while their names may be unrecorded, nevertheless gave their lives as testimonials to the Faith. Catholic and non-Catholic Christians have been assaulted and murdered in places like Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Pakistan, and the Sudan. Recently, for example, ten Catholic bishops who did not conform to the Chinese State-controlled People’s Church were arrested. Their whereabouts is currently unknown. Chinese priests and bishops have long suffered martyrdom and imprisonment under the Communist rule of the Peoples Republic of China.