Priests and religious are “in danger” in many parts of the world, said a report by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
“Being a priest or religious does not make a person immune to violence,” said Thomas Heine-Geldern, executive president of ACN.
He said that in 2021 alone, there have been reports that at least 17 priests and religious have been murdered and 20 have been kidnapped.
Heine-Geldern said that sometimes the motive of the attack is financial, although there were times that “the attackers want to silence the prophetic voice of the Church denouncing injustice and violence.”
“There is also increasing aggression based on persecution and the lack of religious freedom,” he said.
There is no time or place which is safe, said the ACN report, adding that priests and religious have been attacked “by day and by night, in their homes and in churches, on the street or leaving a bank, walking, or traveling by car.”
“They have been shot, stabbed, struck with machetes, and beaten to death,” added the report.
ACN said it is “especially alarmed” about the situation in Nigeria, where two murders and seven kidnappings have taken place.
The circumstances of the attacks vary greatly, but the organization cited the abduction of Claretian priest Izu Marcel Onyeocha on April 10.
The missionary priest was driving to Owerri in southern Nigeria when his vehicle broke down, and when he got out to check it, a group presumed to be Fulani herders came out of the bush and attacked him with machetes. He was kidnapped but released two days later.
Mexico is also suffering a high level of violence, and at least three priests and one catechist have been killed in separate incidents this year, said the ACN report.
In June, Franciscan priest Juan Antonio Orozco Alvarado was killed on his way to celebrate Mass in the village of Tepehuana de Pajaritos. The report said the priest got caught in an armed battle between rival gangs.
ACN said the kidnappings and killings “are occurring in a growing list of countries,” including Venezuela, Peru, Haiti, the Philippines, Angola, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Uganda, Cameroon, and Mali.
Even in France, once considered a safe country, Father Olivier Maire was murdered on August 9 by a man he was hosting in the missionaries’ house at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre while the suspect was awaiting trial on a charge of arson for setting fire to Nantes Cathedral.
“When security is fragile and everybody has left, the priests, religious and lay Catholic missionaries remain, and their dedication to serve others puts them in the firing line. They need our prayers and support more than ever,” said Heine-Geldern.
From November 17 to 24, ACN is organizing #RedWeek when red light are expected to bathe hundreds of cathedrals, churches, monuments, and public buildings around the world as part of an international campaign to raise awareness of the persecution of Christians and the need for religious freedom.