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EDITORIAL: Suffering Servants

In 2023, the plight of Catholic priests and religious individuals faced an alarming escalation of arrests, kidnappings, and murders, according to a report by Aid to the Church in Need. The report sheds light on the grim reality faced by those who dedicate their lives to serving communities worldwide.

The surge in authoritarian government arrests, particularly in Nicaragua under President Daniel Ortega’s regime, stands out as a disturbing trend. The crackdown on political dissent has resulted in the arrest of 46 clergy members, including two bishops and four seminarians. The expulsion of religious sisters and closure of Catholic institutions underscore a blatant disregard for religious freedom.

China, another focal point in the report, reveals a challenging landscape, with 20 Catholic clergy members reportedly under arrest during the year. The difficulty in confirming these numbers emphasizes the challenges faced by persecuted individuals, some of whom remain unaccounted for over extended periods.

India witnessed five Catholic clergy and one woman religious arrested in 2023, primarily due to anti-conversion laws hindering the Church’s work. While released, the looming threat of charges and potential prison time remains a cause for concern.

The report also highlights arrests in Belarus and the kidnapping of clergy in Nigeria, where religious and ethnic conflicts continue to pose significant dangers. Although the total number of kidnappings decreased, the situation remains dire, especially in regions like Nigeria.

Murders of Catholic priests slightly decreased in 2023, with 14 reported cases, of which seven were directly linked to persecution. Nigeria bore the brunt of these atrocities, with attacks resulting in the tragic deaths of Father Isaac Achi, Na’aman Danlami, and Godwin Eze.

The global community must not turn a blind eye to these injustices. The report underscores the heavy toll paid by clergy and religious individuals who champion the common good, human rights, and religious freedom. It is imperative that nations and international organizations unite to condemn these acts and pressure offending governments to respect basic human rights.

As we reflect on these sobering findings, it is crucial for individuals, communities, and leaders worldwide to stand in solidarity with those facing persecution. The time has come for concerted efforts to protect the fundamental rights of all individuals, regardless of their religious beliefs, and to ensure that the shadows of persecution do not cast a darker pall over our shared humanity.

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