Church workers face violence

Remember those who died in 2017

Fr. Miguel Angel Machorro, 55, was celebrating Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City last May when he was stabbed three times and later died.

Fr. Machorro’s death at the hands of a mentally unstable young man added to a year of violence against church workers in 2017. Each December, Fides News Agency, the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, publishes a list of church ministers who died in some form of violence. The most recent list was released Dec. 28, 2017.

According to Fides, at least 23 church workers around the world were killed in 2017. Among them were 13 priests, one religious brother, one religious sister and eight lay persons.

“Once again, the majority of the pastoral care workers were killed in attempted robbery, and in some cases violently attacked, a sign of the climate of moral decline, economic and cultural poverty, which generates violence and disregard for human life,” stated Fides. Kidnappings and abductions have led to numerous deaths; some are still missing.

While violence against Christians in the Middle East has garnered widespread attention, a majority of the pastoral care workers killed in 2017 (11) were from the Americas. The others served in Africa (10) and Asia (2). These deaths bring the number of murdered pastoral care workers killed worldwide to 447 since 2000.

It was the eighth consecutive year that the American continent led the Fides report of murdered church workers, with Mexico at the top of the list. In addition to Fr. Machorro, three other Mexican priests died in 2017: Fr. Joaquin Hernandez Sifuentes, Fr. Felipe Carrillo Altamirano and Fr. Luis Lopez.

Mexico’s Catholic Media Center reported that at least 17 priests have been killed in that country in the last four years.

“Violence against the clergy has increased in recent years, without seeing concrete actions to stop it,” said Fr. Omar Sotelo, the media center’s director. “Priesthood has become a dangerous ministry; in the last nine years, Mexico is the country with the highest number of priests killed.”

Fides also acknowledges that their list is “only the tip of the iceberg.”

“The provisional list compiled annually … must therefore be added to the long list of many of whom there may never be news, who in every corner of the world suffer and even pay with their lives for their faith in Christ,” Fides said.

Preaching the Gospel and living the Gospel life continue to be hazardous for people of faith around the world. As Pope Francis reminds us, “The memory of these heroic, old and recent witnesses confirms in us the awareness that the church is a church of martyrs.”

As we begin a new year, let us remember the lives of all church workers around the world who suffer persecution and even death — from those ordained to those who sweep church floors. Let’s also pray that 2018 brings promise and hope for all who risk so much by bringing the light of Christ into the world.