Yet life in some Mission countries is dangerous, even deadly, and those serving in these territories need our help.
During 2022, three mission territories were filled with violence, persecution, and oppression: Ukraine, following Russia’s invasion; Nicaragua, which saw the arbitrary arrest of a bishop and several priests; and Nigeria, where 28 Catholic priests and religious sisters were kidnapped.
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A priest was murdered in Nigeria
On Sunday, January 15, we learned of the atrocious killing of a Catholic priest in Nigeria when his house was set on fire by bandits who also shot and injured another priest as he attempted to flee.
The bandits attacked the parish residence of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Kafin-Koro, Paikoro region, killing Father Isaac Achi, the parish priest. The assailants also shot and wounded Father Collins Omeh, who was hospitalized.
The sad news about Father Achi follows a long list of attacks against Catholic priests and religious in Nigeria: In 2022, 12 priests and five religious sisters were murdered in mission territories, and 51 priests and sisters were kidnapped. Of the total, 28 priests were kidnapped and four murdered in Nigeria, which has the sixth largest Christian population in the world. There has been no news for months about two of those kidnapped, including a German missionary priest.
Nigeria is an African superpower, and one of the most religiously dynamic places on earth, and it contains the largest mix of Muslims and Christians in the world. Missionaries are threatened here, on the one hand, by terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram, but also by endemic violence, which is only growing.
The situation is so dire that, according to the newly created Cardinal Peter Okpeleke, of the diocese of Ekwulobia, there is reason to be concerned “about the survival of Christianity, the life and safety of our people as well as the stability of the West African sub-region if Nigeria were to tip over.”
I want to help priests and religious sisters in Nigeria thrive
The martyrdom of Ukraine continues
Vladimir Putin’s incursion in Ukraine was not a surprise to close observers, but the scale with which his army entered the neighboring sovereign nation shocked virtually all. The local Catholic Church was at the forefront in terms of humanitarian assistance, building kitchens in makeshift underground shelters in the houses of prayer, distributing aid and sending priests to the front to give spiritual support to the soldiers.
The Greek Ukrainian Catholic Church (UGCC) became the face of the Ukrainians’ strong faith of during these last 10 months. Just a generation ago, during the Soviet era, the UGCC was the largest illegal religious body in the world and suffered mightily for it.
After Communism, the church experienced a rebirth: After driving 3.5 million faithful underground and confiscating almost all its property, a post-Soviet Ukraine allowed the UGCC to reemerge. From that point, it rose from the catacombs with miraculous growth.
Over 3,000 priests died in the gulags, and by the time Ukraine regained its independence, only 300 were left, and not all of them in Ukraine. Today, this church claims more than 7 million faithful and 3,000 priests —one hundred are ordained each year and there are more than 800 seminarians.
Today, the local church needs prayers that help sustain it spiritually and economic support to keep those underground kitchens running.
I want to help the people in Ukraine
Preaching the Gospel in Nicaragua, a crime
January 10th marked a sad day for religious freedom worldwide: Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Alvarez of the diocese of Matagalpa was indicted on charges of conspiracy during a pre-trial hearing. He was wrongfully imprisoned by the local government last August, along with several priests of his diocese.
The government of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, is currently waging war against the Catholic Church. Alvarez’s arrest was the drop that overflowed a bucket that had been filling since the civil uprising of 2018. In the four subsequent years, the Church suffered 190 attacks, ranging from a Molotov bomb in the cathedral of Managua to bishops being shot at.
In 2021, the government imprisoned every opposition leader who voiced an interest in running for the presidential elections. They remain in jail, and in most cases, their families haven’t heard from them since their arrests. With only Catholic bishops left to oppose the ruling couple, the government began to slowly clear the path that led to Alvarez’s arrest- to maintain their hold on power.
Nicaragua has had no ambassador to the Holy See since August 2021. In March of 2022 it declared the papal representative, Polish Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, persona non grata and expelled him from the country. Soon after, the closing of Catholic TV and radio stations began, as did the closure of Catholic NGOs, including the charitable organization run by the Sisters of Charity, founded by Mother Theresa: they were accused of being terrorists.
The coup-de-force came Aug. 19, when after two weeks of virtual arrest in the curia house, Bishop Alvarez was taken away by police. He has been under house arrest ever since.
These are three very diverse mission territories where the Church is facing very different problems, challenges, and battles this 2023. However, one thing they all have in common is that, as mission territories, they rely on the support of generous Catholics around the world to guarantee their survival.
Can you keep the Church in Nigeria, Ukraine, Nicaragua, and over 120 countries in your prayers? And can you support the Church there where it is too young, too poor, or actively persecuted and consequently unable to sustain itself?
I can help the Church in these places!