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Vatican honours 26 Church workers killed in the past year

Fides said many of the killings were carried out with 'brutality and ferociousness' (AP)

The Vatican Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples has paid tribute to 26 Church workers killed in 2014.

In its annual report, the Congregation also highlighted the sacrifice of pastoral workers who died of Ebola contracted while caring for others and reminded Catholics that the fates of five kidnapped priests remain unknown.

Fides, the congregation’s news agency, reported that 26 workers were killed in 2014, mostly during robbery attempts. The 26 consisted of 17 priests, one religious Brother, six religious women, a seminarian and one layman.

Even if most of the murders were committed during robberies, Fides said many of them were carried out with such “brutality and ferociousness” that they are signs of intolerance and “moral degradation” as well as “economic and cultural poverty”.

But the agency also drew special attention to the four members Hospitallers of St John of God, the religious Sister and 13 lay workers who died at Catholic hospitals in Liberia and Sierra Leone after contracting Ebola.

Fr Jesus Etayo, prior general of the of the Hospitallers of St John of God, said the 18 “gave their lives for others like Christ”.

The fates of five kidnapped priests belonging to religious orders remains unknown, Fides said. The five consist of three Assumptionist priests from Congo kidnapped in North Kivu in October 2012, the Italian Jesuit Fr Paolo Dall’Oglio, who was kidnapped in Syria in 2013, and Indian Jesuit Fr Alexis Prem Kumar, director of Jesuit Refugee Service in Afghanistan, who was kidnapped in June in Herat.

For years, the Fides list focused only on priests and religious killed in the Church’s mission territories, but it now focuses on “all pastoral workers who died violently”. The agency said it does not refer to them as “martyrs”, which is a formal recognition by the Church that the person was killed in hatred for the faith, but as “witnesses” to Christ.

Breaking the statistics down by continent, Fides said 14 pastoral workers (12 priests, one Brother and a seminarian) were killed in the Americas. Seven (two priests and five sisters) were killed in Africa. Two (a Jesuit priest in Syria and a woman religious in Malaysia) died in Asia. A priest and a lay collaborator were murdered in Papua New Guinea. Finally, in Europe, an Italian priest was beaten to death in his rectory.

The murders in the Americas included four priests and a seminarian in Mexico, two priests and a Salesian brother in Venezuela, two US priests, Fr Eric Freed in California and Fr Kenneth Walker in Arizona, and one priest each in Canada, Colombia, Nicaragua and Peru.