At least 12 priests and five religious sisters were murdered during 2022 while fulfilling their mission. Nigeria was one of the most dangerous countries in which to serve the Church, but China, in Asia, and Nicaragua, in Latin America, also had many cases of harassment.
According to information collected by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Nigeria was the country with the highest number of victims, with four priests killed. Others who were murdered while carrying out their pastoral duties include three priests brutally killed in Mexico by members of drug cartels and two who were shot in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The five women religious murdered in 2022 while carrying out their missions were Sister Luisa Dell’Orto, in Haiti, in June; Sisters Mary Daniel Abut and Regina Roba, in South Sudan, in August; Sister Mari de Coppi, in Mozambique, in September; and Sister Marie-Sylvie Vakatsuraki, who was killed in October, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Over 40 kidnappings, five still missing
During the same year a total of 42 priests were kidnapped in different countries, of whom 36 have been released. Three of those kidnapped in Nigeria were murdered, and ACN was unable to obtain information regarding the status of two of the Nigerian priests kidnapped in 2022. In Mali, the whereabouts of the German missionary Fr Hans-Joachim Lohre, a project partner of ACN, abducted in November, remains unknown.
Two priests who were kidnapped in 2019, Fr Joel Yougbaré, from Burkina Faso, and Fr John Shekwolo, from Nigeria, are still unaccounted for, bringing the total number of missing priests to five.
Nigeria is the country where there have been most kidnappings, with a total of 28 in 2022. Three were kidnapped in December, but the worst month was July, with seven kidnappings. Cameroon follows, with six, five of whom were kidnapped at the same time, in September, and were released five weeks later. Haiti has become one of the most violent places in Central America. Five priests were abducted by bandits and gangs during the year, although all have since been released.
Ethiopia, Philippines and Mali had one priest kidnapped each, all released, with the exception of Fr Hans-Joachim Lohre in Mali.
Nigeria also accounts for the vast majority of religious sisters kidnapped in 2022, with seven. One was kidnapped in Burkina Faso, and another nun was taken in Cameroon, along with the five priests mentioned above. Fortunately, all of these nuns were subsequently released by their kidnappers.
Priests and bishops imprisoned
Finally, there is the issue of at least 32 clergymen who were detained, in apparent acts of intimidation and coercion.
The most recent cases involve four priests of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church working in Russian-occupied Ukraine and who were arrested in the course of their pastoral activities. Two of these were since released and “deported” to Ukrainian territory, but another two remain in custody and may be charged with terrorism. There is fear that they may be being tortured while in prison.
Nicaragua is a country of grave concern, where 11 members of the clergy have been arrested or detained during the Government’s current conflict with the Catholic Church. These include at least two seminarians, one deacon, one bishop and seven priests. Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Alvarez, who is currently under house arrest, is set to appear in court, charged with “threatening national integrity”, on January 10. There are also reports of priests forbidden from leaving their parishes, and at least 10 clerics who the Government has prevented from returning to the country.
Another recent case involves the imprisonment of a bishop and two priests in Eritrea. Two months have passed since they disappeared, without explanations from the authorities.
Almost impossible to know is the number of Catholic priests and bishops detained in China during 2022. According to information gathered by ACN, clerics from the underground Church are repeatedly abducted by the authorities for some time to force them to join the state approved Church. One example was the disappearance of at least 10 priests, all belonging to the underground community of Baoding (Hebei), between January and May 2022.
Besides these cases, one priest was arrested in Myanmar during protests against the regime, and several nuns and two deacons were arrested in Ethiopia during the Tigray conflict at the end of 2021 but released in 2022.
ACN calls on all countries involved to do their utmost to guarantee the safety and freedom of priests, religious sisters and other pastoral agents who work to serve those most in need. The international charity also asks all friends and benefactors to pray for those who remain in captivity, as well as for the communities and families of those who lost their lives.