Priests, Religious in Africa among Those in Danger of Persecution, Catholic Charity Says

Credit: Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

Catholic pontifical and charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, has highlighted a number of African countries on the list of many countries in the world where Priests, Religious and Lay missionaries are facing the danger of killings, kidnappings and other forms of persecution.

The African countries include Angola, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroun, and Mali.

In a Wednesday, November 10 report, ACN leadership says that at least 17 church leaders have been murdered and 20 have been kidnapped in 2021, and expressed concern that Priests and women and men Religious are increasingly becoming targets in attacks across the world.

“Being a Priest or Religious does not make a person immune to violence, on the contrary, it can make them more of a target,” the Executive President of ACN, Thomas Heine-Geldern has been quoted as saying in the report.

He adds, “Sometimes the motive is financial, whether robbery or ransom.”


In the November 10 report, ACN leadership outlines some countries where the work of Priests, and Christian missionaries in general is greatly threatened.

“ACN is especially alarmed about the situation in Nigeria, where two of these murders and seven of the kidnappings have taken place. The circumstances of the attacks vary greatly, but just one example is that of Claretian Fr. Izu Marcel Onyeocha, who was kidnapped on the night of 10 April.,” the leadership of the Catholic Charity says.

The Nigerian Cleric, ACN indicates, “was driving to Owerri in Southern Nigeria when his vehicle broke down, and when he got out to check it, a group presumed to be Fulani herders came out of the bush and attacked him with machetes. He was kidnapped but released two days later.”

Mr. Heine-Geldern notes that the attackers, sometimes want to silence “the prophetic voice of the Church denouncing injustice and violence.”

However, he notes that “there is also increasing aggression based on persecution and the lack of religious freedom.”

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“There is no time or place which is safe,” Mr. Heine-Geldern says and continues, “Priests and religious have been attacked by day and by night, in their homes and in churches, on the street or leaving a bank, walking or travelling by vehicle.”

He further says many others “have been shot, stabbed, struck with machetes and beaten to death.”

In April, ACN published The Religious Freedom in the World Report (RFR) 2021 where it listed several countries in Africa experiencing “the most intense” violations of religious freedom.

In the report published April 20, ACN reported that 23 of Africa’s 54 countries are among 62 countries with high cases of religious persecutions across the globe.

Of the 23 countries in the world’s second largest continent, 12 are listed as nations with “extreme persecution” characterized by “intense violations of religious freedom”; the other 11 are in the category of “severe cases of violation” of religious freedom.


At number three, the West African nation of Burkina Faso leads the list of African countries with extreme violation of religious freedom caused by Islamic extremism.

ACN leadership also reports that “Mexico is also suffering a high level of violence, and at least three Priests and one Catechist have been killed in separate incidents.”

In June, ACN reports, “a Franciscan Priest, Fr. Juan Antonio Orozco Alvarado, was killed on his way to celebrate Mass in the village of Tepehuana de Pajaritos caught in an armed battle between rival gangs.”

“Such kidnappings and killings are occurring in a growing list of countries, including Venezuela, Peru, Haiti, the Philippines, Angola, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Uganda, Cameroun and Mali,” ACN leadership says in the November 10 report.

Even in France, once considered a safe country, ACN reports that “Fr Olivier Maire was murdered on 9 August by a man he was hosting in the missionaries’ house at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre while the suspect awaited trial on a charge of arson for setting fire to Nantes Cathedral.”

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“When security is fragile and everybody has left, the Priests, Religious and Lay Catholic missionaries remain, and their dedication to serve others puts them in the firing line. They need our prayers and support more than ever,” Mr. Heine-Geldern says.

This story was first published by ACI Africa on 11 November 2021

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.