Friday, February 10, 2006

Another Jesuit killed in Central Africa.

To modern ears, the word 'martyr' can often have a deceptively antique ring, evoking images of early Christian saints dying for their faith in gory and unusual ways. Believers living in the more affluent and peaceful corners of today's world may find their faith threatened more by indifference than by outright violence. We shouldn't be so complacent, having so recently completed the most violent century in human history and finding ourselves in a new century that seems no better than the last. If you're at all skeptical about the place of martyrdom in the modern world, take a look at this list of Jesuit martyrs of the 20th century. In the first few years of the 21st century, the Society's martyrology has continued to grow.

The Society of Jesus gained a new martyr this week in Father Elie Koma, a Burundian Jesuit who was killed last Saturday in Bujumbura, one of the latest victims of a civil war that has claimed the lives of over 300,000 people. If media reports of his death are accurate, Father Koma died not because he was a Jesuit but simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A pastor and spiritual director, Father Koma was on his back to the Jesuit community in which he lived after a long day's work when he drove right into a skirmish between government soldiers and members of a rebel militia. Caught in the crossfire, the 59-year-old Jesuit was struck by three bullets and died almost immediately. The priest's death may have been purely accidental or, as sometimes happens, he could have been targeted by combatants eager to eliminate an inconvenient witness.

Reading about the death of Father Koma, I was reminded of last year's killing of Father René De Haes, an event I wrote about here. A Belgian Jesuit who spent much of his life in the Congo, Father De Haes died much as Father Koma did - in an act of random and senseless violence in a country where many innocent people had died in the same way. Given the manner in which they died, Father De Haes and Father Koma both died in solidarity with the people they served. In my work with refugees in California and Ontario, I spent a lot of time with people from the very countries in which Fathers De Haes and Koma died. Having heard stories of persecution and dispossession told by refugees from Burundi and the DRC, I feel strangely close to the conflicts that have torn these countries apart. The violent death of two of my brother Jesuits in Central Africa makes that connection seem even stronger. AMDG.


At February 11, 2006 10:34 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

Unfortunately to my ears, "martyrdom" is not a concept from antiquity.

God's blessings on the Jesuits nad the people whom Father was serving and eternal life to the Church's new martyr.

How do we ever make meaning out of such tragedies?


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