Vatican City — In addition to its annual report on church workers murdered during the year, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples highlighted the sacrifice of pastoral workers who died of Ebola contracted while caring for others and reminded Catholics that the fates of five kidnapped priests remain unknown.
Fides, the congregation's news agency, reported Dec. 30 that 26 pastoral workers were killed in 2014, most during robbery attempts: 17 priests, one religious brother, six religious women, a seminarian and a layman.
Even if most of the murders were committed during robberies, Fides said many of them were carried out with such "brutality and ferociousness" that they are signs of intolerance and "moral degradation" as well as "economic and cultural poverty."
But the agency also drew special attention to the four members Hospitallers of St. John of God, the religious sister and 13 lay workers who died at Catholic hospitals in Liberia and Sierra Leone after contracting Ebola.
The 18 "gave their lives for others like Christ," said Fr. Jesus Etayo, prior general of the order.
The fates of five kidnapped religious-order priests remains unknown, Fides said: Three Assumptionist priests from Congo were kidnapped in North Kivu in October 2012; Italian Jesuit Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio was kidnapped in Syria in 2013; and Indian Jesuit Fr. Alexis Prem Kumar, director of Jesuit Refugee Service in Afghanistan, was kidnapped in June outside a JRS-run school in Herat.
For years, the Fides' list focused only on priests and religious killed in the church's mission territories, but it now focuses on "all pastoral workers who died violently." The agency said it does not refer to them as "martyrs," which is a formal recognition by the church that the person was killed in hatred for the faith, but as "witnesses" to Christ.
Breaking the statistics down by continent, Fides said 14 pastoral workers -- 12 priests, one brother and a seminarian -- were killed in the Americas; seven -- two priests and five sisters -- were killed in Africa; two -- a Jesuit priest in Syria and a woman religious in Malaysia -- died in Asia; a priest and a lay collaborator were murdered in Papua New Guinea; and in Europe, an Italian priest was beaten to death in his rectory.
The murders in the Americas included: four priests and a seminarian in Mexico; two priests and a Salesian brother in Venezuela; two U.S. priests, Fr. Eric Freed in California and Fr. Kenneth Walker in Arizona; and one priest each in Canada, Colombia, Nicaragua and Peru.