Roll of missionaries killed or missing in 2013

During 2013, 22 pastoral care workers were killed worldwide, almost double compared to 13 who were killed in 2012, Fides reports. Many more have been kidnapped or are missing this year.

For the fifth consecutive year, the highest death toll was in Latin America where 19 priests, one religious sister and two lay persons were killed. In Africa, one priest in Tanzania, one religious sister in Madagascar, and one lay person in Nigeria were killed. One priest in India and one in Syria were killed. In the Philippines one lay person was killed. One priest was murdered in Italy.

There is still much concern regarding the fate of many other pastoral care workers who have been kidnapped or disappeared, of whom there has been no news, such as the three Congolese Augustinian priests of the Assumption, kidnapped in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo in October 2012, and a Colombian priest who has been missing for months. In Syria, there has been no news of the Italian Jesuit Fr Paul Dall'Oglio for a long time, of the two metropolitan Bishops of Aleppo - the Greek Orthodox Boulos al-Yazigi and the Syrian Orthodox Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, of the Orthodox nuns of the monastery of Santa Tecla. Fr Georges Vandenbeusch, the French Fidei Donum priest has just been released, who had been kidnapped on13 November in his parish home in Nguetchewe, Cameroon.

Biographical notes 

Don José Francisco Velez Echeverri, 55, a diocesan priest, was found dead on January 16, 2013, with stab wounds in the courtyard of his house in the neighbourhood of El Albergue, in the south of Buga, Colombia. The neighbors reported seeing a person on a bicycle leaving from the priest’s house a few hours before the discovery of his lifeless body. From the initial assumptions made by the authorities it seems to be a robbery which ended in tragedy. Don José was very much involved in social work and did not, according to the testimonies of the faithful, have any enemies. He was ordained a priest on January 20, 1990, for two years he had been parish priest at the Niño Jesús de Praga (Infant Jesus of Prague) parish, in the municipality of Tulua and had also carried out his pastoral ministry in other parishes.

Don Luis Alfredo Suárez Salazar, belonged to the Archdiocese of Villavicencio, was killed on the morning of February 2, 2013 in Ocaña, in the north of Santander (Colombia), on the border with Venezuela, while spending his holidays in his hometown. Two gunmen on a motorcycle fired at least a dozen shots at the priest and two other people who were with him. According to local sources the killers did not intend to kill the priest, but one of the people with him.

Don Jose Mejia Ancizar Palomino, 84, of the Diocese of Buga, was found dead on February 2 at his residence, in Caldas, the municipality of Riosucio (Colombia). The priest's body was found tied to the bed with signs of torture. Don Mejia Palomino carried out his pastoral ministry in the Diocese of Pereira as chaplain of the "Sagrada Familia" orphanage and the Home for the Elderly "Louise de Marillac". 

Don José Flores Preciado, Mexican, died at the regional University Hospital in the city of Colima (Mexico), after being beaten by unknown persons in the Church of Christ the King, where he confessed and celebrated Mass every day. On the evening of 5 February, 2013 unknown persons entered the church, perhaps to commit a theft, but were discovered by the priest and started beating him. The priest died in hospital shortly after due to the injuries. Don José, was born on December 30, 1929 in Tuzcacuesco, Jalisco, was ordained a priest in 1961. He was a very quiet person, a professor of Latin in the seminary de Chiapa (Colima) and the seminary of Cobano (Colima city), confessor of the cathedral and tutor of a group of seminarians.

Don Evarist Mushi, 55, of the Diocese of Zanzibar (Tanzania), was killed at 7am on Sunday, 17 February, 2013. He had just arrived at St Joseph Cathedral in Zanzibar to celebrate Mass, and as he was about to get out of the car, two people on a motorcycle approached him and the one seated at the back opened fire shooting three times while the priest was still in the car. Days before explicit assassination threats against Bishops and priests were seen in local newspapers.

Don José Ramón Mendoza, 44, was murdered on Sunday evening, 17 February, 2013 in the state of Lara, Venezuela (about 400 km from Caracas). Fr Mendoza was driving along the El Manzano road in the district of Iribarren, he was at the traffic lights and was attacked by a gang of bandits. According to information supplied by the police probably the priest’s first reaction was to accelerate, but he was fatally wounded with a shot to the head and died. Don José Mendoza was the parish priest of San Juan Evangelista, in the Brisas de El Obelisco neighbourhood, and was known to be a man of prayer.

The lay Catholic Dexter Condez, 26, belonged to the religious Family of the Society of St Vincent de' Paul (Religious Vincentian Family), was killed with eight shots on the island of Boracaya (Philippines) 22 February, 2013. Condez defended the rights and prerogatives of the indigenous group Ati, who are opposed to the exploitation of the land on behalf of construction companies. The young man worked closely with the local Church in the Diocese of Kalibo.

Don Michele Di Stefano, 79, of the Diocese of Trapani (Italy), was killed with a stick in his bed, at the rectory where he lived alone, in the night between 25 and 26 February 2013. Some relatives, not seeing him arrive for lunch as agreed, asked a neighbor to go and look for him, and they found the priest's body under the blankets with traces of blood. The church and parsonage are located in an isolated area, about 250 meters from the first houses of the small village. The murderer, 33, a parishioner, captured a few days later, was sentenced to thirty years in prison for robbery. Don Michele had been a pastor for 43 years, when he turned 75 he continued his pastoral ministry as a pastor in the small parish "Jesus, Joseph and Mary" in the nearby Ummari. For many years he was assistant to the workers of Catholic Action and spiritual assistant of the provincial Coldiretti. According to witnesses, the priest was well- liked, had peaceful relations with all, he was a good, friendly and hardworking man.

Sister Marie Emmanuel Helesbeux, 82, French, of the Sœurs de la Providence de Ruillé sur Loir, was killed on 1 March, 2013 in Mandritsara in the north-east of Madagascar, she was first hit with a stick and then strangled. Three people have been arrested and confessed to the crime: it seems they owned the victim money. The nun was for 42 years a missionary in Madagascar, always in Mandritsara, where she was much loved and respected by the people for her works of charity.

Don J Kochupuryil Thomas, 65, Rector of the Major Seminary of St  Peter in Bangalore (India), was murdered by unknown persons on the night of 31 March and 1 April 2013 within the premises of the Seminary. The priest was beaten to death. The reasons for the murder remain unknown. A native of Kerala (India), he had served the community in Bangalore for about 30 years. He is remembered as a "very pious priest, peaceful and human, a scholar of high-level, animated by wit, wisdom and sincerity", he also "had an indomitable spirit of work, study, prayer and service".

Father Richard E Joyal, 62, Canadian, Member of the Society of Mary, was killed on April 24 in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. The priest had left the bank with thousands of Canadian dollars, when two men on a motorcycle approached him, they grapped a package he was carrying under his arm and then shot him three times in the back. The alleged thieves did not, however, take the money that was in the victim's wallet. The missionary had previously worked in the Philippines and the Ivory Coast.

Don José Antonio Bayona Valle, 48, a diocesan priest of the Archdiocese of Barranquilla (Colombia) was killed on the evening of May 6, 2013 with 18 stab wounds. The body was found on a path in the area of the village of Juan Mina. He was ordained a priest on 20 December 1998, he had served as a pastor in Christ the King parish in the south-west of Barranquilla in the area of Lipaya.

The Syrian priest François Murad, 49, was killed in Gassanieh, in northern Syria, in the convent of the Custody of the Holy Land, where he had taken refuge, on Sunday, June 23, 2013. The circumstances of the death are not fully understood. According to local sources, the monastery where Fr Murad was staying was attacked by militants linked to the jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra. Father François had taken the first steps in the religious life with the Franciscan Friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, and with them he continued to share close bonds of spiritual friendship. After being ordained a priest he had started the construction of a coenobitic monastery dedicated to St Simon Stylites in the village of Gassanieh. After the start of the Civil War, the monastery was bombed and Fr Murad had moved to the convent of the Custody for safety reasons.

The lifeless body of Don Néstor Darío Buendía Martínez, 35, who had been missing for a few days, was found in an isolated area of the town of Los Cordobas, about 500 miles north of Bogota (Colombia), on June 26, 2013. The priest had left from Cerete, where he was assistant pastor, and was heading towards Monteria, but never reached his intended destination, where his family live. Although the priest had never reported of having received threats, according to local information he had publicly condemned the criminal gangs in the area of Cerete. Don Néstor Darío Buendía Martínez was born in Canalete (Cordoba), and was assistant pastor of San Antonio de Padua parish in Cerete after having been pastor in the church of Santo Domingo Vidal in Chima.

Father Elvis Marcelino De Lima, 47, a native of Fortaleza (Brazil), of the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth, was killed on July 13, 2013 by two boys who attacked him during a robbery at the Centro Educacional da Juventude of Fortaleza, where he resided. According to information provided, the priest had already handed over money, phone and car keys, when one of the two young boys (20 to 21 years of age) fired, killing him. Since his ordination, Father Elvis had carried out his ministry almost always in the field of formation: first in Ponta Grossa (Paraná), then in Santiago del Cile and in Curitiba. He was elected Regional Superior of the Latin American community of his congregation, since 2008 he resided at the Center Educacional Juventude in Fortaleza. According to the testimonies of those who knew him, he was a person who was able to be with everyone, and whereever he went, his smile had conquered the people and especially the youth. He lost his life in an episode of petty crime.

Don Ignacio Cortez Alvarez, pastor of the church, Maria Auxiliadora, was killed in his home in the city of Ensenada, in the region of Baja California (Mexico). The lifeless body of the priest was found on 22 July in his home, next to the parish, with several wounds to the chest. The reasons for the murder remain unknown. Father Cortez Alvarez was born in Janamuato, Michoacán, on 16 October, 1956 and was ordained a priest on 19 March, 1988 at the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Tijuana.

Don Luis Bernardo Echeverri, 69, and Don Héctor Fabio Cabrera, 27, respectively parish priest and curate of the parish of San Sebastian of the City Hall in Roldanillo, in the department of Valle del Cauca, Archdiocese of Cali (Colombia), were killed in their home on the night between 27 and 28 September 2013. According to local sources around midnight some local residents saw two men leave the parish. Because of the late hour, they alerted the police, who found the lifeless body of the pastor and his collaborator in their rooms, with stab wounds. The two priests belonged to the Diocese of Cartago.

Afra Martinelli, a lay missionary, was born 78 years ago in Civilerghe (Brescia Italy), she had been in Nigeria for over thirty years, where she founded and directed the Regina Mundi Centre: a school of computer science with an adjacent school for boys, in Ogwashi-Ukwu, in the diocese of Issele-Uku. On the morning of 27 September  her collaborators found her in her room, severely wounded in the neck with a machete, most likely due to an attempted theft. She was transported to the nearest hospital, where she died on 9 October, after a few days of agony. Pope Francis recalled her during the Angelus on Sunday, 20 October on Mission Day, with these words: "On this day we are close to all the men and women missionaries, who work without making noise, and who give their lives. Like the Italian Afra Martinelli, who worked for many years in Nigeria: one day she was killed in a,robbery; everyone wept, Christians and Muslims. They really loved her. She announced the Gospel with her life, with the works she accomplished, a center of education , in thhis way she spread the flame of faith, she fought the good fight! Let us think about this our sister , and greet her with applause, all of us!"

Don Anibal Gomez (67 years old), of Spanish origin, in the diocese of Colon (Panama), was found dead on October 30 at the entrance of the Bishop Emeritus’ house of the Diocese of Colón-Kuna Yala, in which he resided. It is assumed that the reason for the murder was robbery, as the priest had bruises, had been tied, and died because of a large stab wound. The criminal incident occurred in the area of Davis Colon, a city considered to be particularly violent because of rampant crime. Father Anibal Gomez was the parish priest in the parish of Mary Mother of God

Don Hipólito Villalobos Lima and Don Nicolás De la Cruz Martínez were found murdered on 29 November   in the parish home in San Cristobal, in the state of Veracruz (Mexico), Diocese of Tuxpan, most likely due to an attempted robbery.

On the night of 31 December, 2013 and 1 January, 2014, Fr Eric Freed, a priest in Eureka, California was killed: The police are investigating the case.

Beatification process

In 2013, the beatification process of the six Italian missionary Sisters of the Poor of Bergamo was opened. The Sisters died in Congo in 1995 after contracting the Ebola virus.  When the outbreak began they had the chance to leave but decided to stay and continue nursing the patients who needed their care. They have been called 'martyrs of love'.

The diocesan phase of the beatification process of Luisa Mistrali Guidotti, a member of the Women's Medical Missionary Association was completed in 2013. She was killed in 1979 in the then Rhodesia, while accompanying a pregnant woman at risk in labour to the hospital. The cause of beatification of Father Mario Vergara, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), and the lay catechist Isidore Ngei Ko Lat, killed in hatred of faith in Myanmar in 1950 was opened.

On 25 April,  the beatification of Father Pino Puglisi was celebrated: "his gentleness and his unceasing missionary work, collided with a logic of life opposed to faith, that of the mafia, that hindered his pastoral action with intimidation.

Source: Fides

Tags: Fides, missionaries killed, pastoral care workers killed

We Need Your Support

ICN aims to provide speedy and accurate news coverage of all subjects of interest to Catholics and the wider Christian community. As our audience increases - so do our costs. We need your help to continue this work.

Please support our journalism by donating today.