ROME – The past seven days were among the deadliest for Catholic priests and religious in recent years, with one violent murder every 33 hours.
Just last Wednesday, June 22, Pope Francis condemned that week’s killing of two Jesuit priests in Mexico.
By Sunday, June 26, the pontiff was once again lamenting the death of a religious, this time at the end of his weekly Angelus: Sister Luisa dell’Orto, a Little Sister of the Gospel of Saint Charles de Foucauld, was killed Saturday in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.
In between those murders, two more took place in Nigeria. The news of the two separate incidents killing two priests, however, broke after the pope’s last public appearance.
Nigeria loses two priests
On Saturday, June 25, Father Vitus Borogo was murdered in Kaduna State, the same region where two churches were attacked a week earlier. The murderers are believed to be members of the Islamic terrorist organization Boko Haram.
The 50-year-old priest served as the chairman of the Nigerian Catholic Diocesan Priests’ Association. He was murdered at a farm, during what the chancellor of the diocese defined as a “raid by terrorists.”
On Sunday, June 26, Father Christopher Odia was murdered after being kidnapped from the Diocese of Auchi, Edo State, in the southern region of Nigeria. He had been abducted on his way to Sunday Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church Ikabigdo.
He was 41 and ordained a priest in 2012.
According to Open Doors International, an NGO that tracks Christian persecution globally, in much of northern Nigeria, Christians live under the constant threat of attack from Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Fulani herdsmen, and other criminals who kidnap and murder at will.
While all citizens of northern Nigeria are subject to threats and violence, Christians are often specifically targeted because of their faith — ISWAP and Boko Haram want to eliminate the Christian presence in Nigeria.
On Sunday, Bishop Matthew Kukah, of the diocese of Sokoto, complained that one of his priests and a religious sister who were kidnapped three weeks ago remain missing, and the people who took them are negotiating a ransom for almost half a million dollars.
“We are negotiating with the kidnappers as I’m talking because I don’t know how else to get back my priest,” he said.
Kukah noted that members of his family have been kidnapped and another one of his priests was killed by kidnappers, as was a seminarian.
“Somehow we like to pretend we have a government,” he said. “Of course, we have the apparatus of government, we have the scaffolding, but this scaffolding is important because people can see access to and appropriate resources of the state.”
An Italian religious sister murdered in Haiti
Sister Lucia Dell’Orto was murdered by three armed men on June 25 in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, where she lived for the past 20 years. She was shot by three armed men and left in the street to die.
“It seems it was not a robbery or even a kidnapping attempt, but one of the many cases of absurd violence that the proliferation of weapons allows. Luisa had no enemies,” Father Elder Maurice Hyppolite, a Salesian priest and lecturer on the Caribbean island, told the Italian newspaper Corriere dell Sera.
“She was aware that something might happen; even in her last letter she said that the situation was very difficult,” her sister Maria Adele told the local newspaper in the Italian town of Lomagna, north of Milan, where they grew up.
The religious sister was so loved in her home town that even the city council released a statement, saying that Lomagna is “united in shock, dismay, and non-acceptance, which almost brings us to a movement of rebellion.”
In the last letter she sent to Italy to those who founded her charitable endeavors in Haiti, Dall’Orto wrote that though some would consider her crazy for risking her life by staying in a place so marred by violence, she remains because “we cannot keep silent about what we have seen and heard. Being able to count on someone is essential to living.”
Two Jesuits murdered in Mexico
Last week saw the death of two Jesuit priests, Father Javier Campos and Father Joaquin Mora, in Mexico, a crime that brought swift condemnation from Pope Francis.
Throughout the week, hundreds of soldiers scoured the mountains of Mexico’s Sierra Tarahumara looking for a local Sinaloa cartel boss accused of killing the two elderly Jesuits along with a tour guide.
The lives and deaths of Campos and Mora not only illustrate the carnage their country is enduring, but also one of its least understood aspects: Despite belonging to an overwhelming statistical majority, Christians in Colombia who stand up to the violence are remarkably at risk. They face danger not for their religious beliefs, but for preaching against the drug trade and the killing in ways that infuriate both gangs and left- and right-wing paramilitaries.
As the bishops put it in a statement released June 23, three days after the murder, violence in Mexico has been “disrupting the daily life of our entire society, affecting productive activities in cities and the countryside, exerting pressure with extortion against those who work honestly in markets, schools and small businesses, along with medium and large companies. [Criminals] have taken over the streets, neighborhoods and entire towns, as well as roads and highways.”
Though not targeted for their faith, but for the influence of their ministry in keeping their “customers” off the streets, drug cartels have killed between 45 and 50 priests in the last 15 years. Most were caught in the crossfire or refused to perform sacramental services such as baptisms or weddings for drug lords.