The number of priests, religious and lay people being persecuted for spreading the Faith will continue to worsen, missionaries across Ireland have said.
While Christians should always remain hopeful, Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, Superior General of the Society of African Missions, told The Irish Catholic that the number of missionaries being killed globally will continue to increase, given how weak security has become in many countries.
Fr O’Driscoll, who served in Nigeria for a number of years, added that the African continent is the most “unstable” at the moment, which is why so many missionaries are persecuted there.
“I would say in some cases it may just simply be violence and robbery rather than religion as such, but I would say the majority of cases are because we are Christians and leaders of the Christian community,” Fr O’Driscoll said.
His remarks come after news that 40 missionaries were killed in 2018 – almost double the 23 killed in the previous year. The data, which is collected each year by Fides Agency, stated that 35 priests, one seminarian, and four lay people were killed on mission, with the largest number of victims in Africa.
Commenting on the figures, Fr Raymond Husband SSC, the director of the Missionary Society of St Columban in the Irish Region, said that men and women are working in “troubled parts of the world”, adding that the three priests who were killed in the Philippines last year were in a “dangerous field” and standing up for human rights.
“All of them took a stance against illegal lobbying,
against gambling and they paid the price because the powers that be opposed them,” he said, adding that the trend of missionaries being killed is worsening, particularly in places such as Mexico and South America. Despite the dangers those spreading the Faith face, Fr Husband said missionaries will continue to stand their ground, and continue to put their life on the line for the Gospel.
Fides noted that this year many missionaries have lost their lives during attempted hold-ups and robberies. These were in poor areas where violence is normal, where state authority was lacking or under pressure from corruption, or where religion is “used for other ends”.
Describing the figures as “incredible”, Fr John Guiney SJ, Director of the Irish Jesuit Mission Office in Dublin, said that missionaries are often killed because they’re on “the front line of conflict” but continue to “remain with their suffering people”.
Fr Guiney, who has worked on missions in East Africa and parts of south east Asia for over three decades, pointed out that missionaries are targeted for trying to bring peace to areas of conflict.
“Recent martyrs have been people who have been trying to bring reconciliation and dialogue among conflicting parties whether it be in Syria or in South Sudan,” he said.
With missionary work becoming increasingly dangerous, Fr Guiney stressed that Christians are all called to stand up for the Faith, even it means laying down one’s life.
“The missionary, no less than any other Christian, is called to stand for justice, and to stand for rights and to stand for the dignity of the other person whatever the cost. In a very special way, missionaries are saying ‘I want to be present with my people whatever the cost’,” he said.
“That is very much Christ’s way, and that is the way of the Cross, and men and women and Christians down the ages have given their lives out of love and out of loving service.”