According to estimates released by Vatican authorities, some 22 Catholic priests and religious were killed during 2013. This number is double the figure for the preceding year. The figure for 2013 includes Fr. Eric Freed, a priest who was found murdered in California under still unknown circumstances on January 1. In that case, a suspect is now in custody.
The region most affected is Latin America. During 2013, in the Americas, 15 priests died violent deaths. Of these, 7 were in Colombia, 4 in Mexico, 1 in Brazil, 1 in Venezuela, 1 in Panama, and 1 in Haiti. Colombia had the highest number of priests felled by violence as government security forces, Marxists narcoterrorists and right-wing vigilantes contend for power. In Africa, a priest was murdered by an Islamist radical in Tanzania, a religious sister was killed in Madagascar, and one lay Church worker in Nigeria was killed. Asia saw one priest murdered in India, while the Mideast saw at least one priest murdered by Islamist terrorists. In the Philippines, a lay Church worker was killed. In Italy, a priest was murdered.
The list issued by the Vatican includes not only missionaries ‘ad gentes’ in the strictest sense of the term, but also pastoral workers who died violently. According to the Fides news service, they are not yet considered "martyrs",  since it is up to Catholic authorities to rule upon the circumstances of their deaths and their merits. 
During 2013, the Vatican process of beatifying six Italian missionary Sisters of the Poor of Bergamo was begun. They died in 1995 after having contracted the Ebola virus in the Congo when they refused to leave their patients without health care. Some have defined them as "martyrs of love." The beatification process for Luisa Mistrali Guidotti of the Women's Medical Missionary Association was completed; she was killed in 1979 while taking an at-risk pregnant woman for treatment in what is now Zimbabwe.
On April 25, 2013, Father Pino Puglisi was beatified. Paying tribute to the priest, the Catholic bishops of Sicily proclaimed, "his gentleness and his unceasing missionary work, collided with a logic of life opposed to faith, that of the mafia, that hindered his pastoral action with intimidation , threats and beatings, to the point of killing him, in hatred of the faith."  The word ‘martyr’ comes from the Greek word for ‘witness’ and is typically used to described those who died while carrying out their Christian vocation or were murdered when they refused to recant their faith.
Other martyrs who await beatification are Fr Mario Vergara of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) and lay catechist Isidore Ngei Ko Lat, both of whom were killed in hatred of the faith in Burma in 1950.
(Fr Francois Murad, beheaded by Islamist militants in Syria)
The fate of many Christians, Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, remains hidden. For example, three Congolese priests who were abducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012 remain missing and unaccounted for, while a priest in Colombia remains missing. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled Syria, for instance, over two years of civil war in that country, while Islamists continue to persecute and murder Christians in Egypt. In Syria, there is still no news about Fr. Paul Dall'Oglio, an Italian Jesuit who operated an interfaith reconciliation center, while the abducted Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop Boulos al-Yazigi and the Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim still remain missing. This is also true of the Orthodox nuns of the monastery of Saint Thekla in Syria, who were abducted by Islamist terrorists from the orphanage where they refused to leave behind the Muslim and Christian children under their care.
The news that Fr. Georges Vandenbeusch, a French "Fidei Donum" priest has just been released was greeted with joy in his native France. He had been abducted in November 2013 from his rectory in Nguetchewe, Cameroon.
Christians in India are continually assaulted by Hindu nationalists, while some are threatened with death should they not recant their faith. In Pakistan, a woman has been imprisoned for two years after refusing to recant her Christian faith. 
Pope Francis noted in an address in June 2013 that "in 2,000 years, a vast host of men and women have sacrificed their lives to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and his Gospel."  Noting that many martyrs remain known only to God, Pope Francis said in an Angelus address in November "let us think about our many Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering persecution for their faith. There are so many. Perhaps more now than in past centuries. Jesus is with them. We too are united to them with our prayers and our love; we admire their courage and their witness. They are our brothers and sisters who, in many parts of the world, are suffering for their faithfulness to Jesus Christ."



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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