Forty Catholic missionaries were killed around the world in 2018, the Vatican’s news agency has reported, with Africa becoming the new deadliest continent for clergy.
Fides News Agency said that the 40 deaths are almost double the 23 number from 2017. Thirty-five priests were killed last year, along with one seminarian and four lay people.
While for eight straight years Latin America was the deadliest region for clergy, Africa took over the mantle in 2018, seeing 19 priests, one seminarian and one lay woman killed in the year.
“Many Missionaries have lost their lives during attempted hold-ups and robberies, ferociously committed, in impoverished, degraded social contexts, where violence is the rule of life, the authority of the state was lacking or weakened by corruption and compromises, or where religion is used for other ends,” Fides said.
“Everywhere priests, religious, and laymen share the same daily life as the common people, bringing them the evangelical witness of love and service for all, as a sign of hope and peace, trying to alleviate the suffering of the weak and raising their voices in defense of their trampled rights, denouncing evil and injustice,” it added.
“Even in danger of their own safety, at the request of civil authorities or their own superiors, the Missionaries remained at their posts, aware of the risks which they were running, in order to remain true to the duties they bore.”
Over the course of 2018, a number of non-clergy Protestant missionary deaths also made headline news, most notably the killing of 26-year-old Oral Roberts University graduate John Chau.
Chau, who studied for years to bring the Gospel to isolated tribespeople on North Sentinel Island near India, was killed by arrows on the island in November.
Chau's killing sparked debate on the proper ways of carrying out contemporary missionary work, though All Nations, the missionary group that trained Chau, hailed his character.
Pam Arlund, a member of the International Leadership Team at All Nations, told The Christian Post that the American was “one of the greatest learners I have ever had the pleasure of working with. He read about one book every three days, about missions, reading books that I would recommend to him.”
His family also called him someone who "loved God" and wanted to help "those in need."
The unrest and clashes in Cameroon meanwhile led to the death of Indiana missionary Charles Wesco in October. Wesco, who had only moved into the region with his family earlier that month, was shot by bullets and died in front of his wife and son.
Rebecca Wesco, the missionary's mother, said that she believes her son is in Heaven.
"[W]e don't have any shadow of a doubt," the mother said at the time. "He had sins, but he had asked God to forgive him, and he really truly wanted to love God more than his very life."