Catholic Priest’s Murder in France: Recent Priest Killings Worldwide

Priests were killed around the world in 2020 and 2021.

The funeral Mass of murdered seminarian Michael Nnadi is held at Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, Nigeria, Feb. 11, 2020.
The funeral Mass of murdered seminarian Michael Nnadi is held at Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, Nigeria, Feb. 11, 2020. (photo: Diocese of Maiduguri / Diocese of Maiduguri)

The murder of a French priest on Monday was the latest in a number of killings of priests around the world.

On Monday, Father Olivier Maire was murdered in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, a commune in the French province of Vendée. Father Maire was the provincial superior of the Montfort Missionaries (Company of Mary). 

The murder suspect who turned himself in to police, 40-year-old Emmanuel Abayisenga, is a Rwandan man who had also been charged with committing arson at Nantes cathedral in 2020. Abayisenga also met Pope Francis in a 2016 audience at the Vatican. A Nov. 11, 2016, photo first published by the French Catholic newspaper La Croix showed Abayisenga greeting Pope Francis.

The killing of Father Maire also occurred five years after another French priest, Father Jacques Hamel, was murdered in a terrorist attack while saying Mass. Father Hamel was killed in the town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray in northern France, and the five-year anniversary of his death was recently commemorated on July 26. His attackers in that case were linked with a Syria-based ISIS operative.

Pope Francis had already waived the five-year waiting period to open Father Hamel’s cause for beatification, referring to him in 2016 as “part of this chain of martyrs.”

Other priests were killed around the world in 2020 and 2021. According to the information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, 20 Catholic missionaries were killed in 2020, including eight priests, three religious women, one male religious, two seminarians, and six laypeople. Agenzia Fides reported that many missionaries were killed in “attempted holdups and robberies.”

Among those victims were Father Jozef Hollanders, a Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who was killed during a robbery in South Africa, as well as Father Roberto Malgesini, an Italian priest known for his ministry to the homeless and migrants.

Father Malgesini was stabbed to death on Sept. 15, 2020, in the northern Italian city of Como. The man who confessed to the killing and turned himself in to police, a 53-year-old from Tunisia, was known by Father Malgesini and suffered from some mental ailments. He slept in a parish-run homeless shelter.

Pope Francis met with the priest’s parents during an October general audience at the Vatican.

In recent years, Nigerian priests and seminarians have been targeted for kidnappings and killings at a high rate. In May, two priests were kidnapped from a parish in the Sokoto Diocese, and one was found murdered. In March, a priest and at least six others were killed by gunmen who were attacking a church in Nigeria’s Benue state.

Earlier in 2021, Father John Gbakaan of the Diocese of Minna was kidnapped by armed men on Jan. 15 while traveling in Niger state. His dead body was discovered a day later, on Jan. 16.

One year before that, four seminarians were abducted by gunmen from Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna state on Jan. 8, 2020. Several weeks later on Feb. 1, 2020, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah announced one of the seminarians – 18-year-old Michael Nnadi – had been killed by gunmen.

Other priests and bishops have been kidnapped in Nigeria in recent years, including Bishop Moses Chikwe, auxiliary bishop of Owerri, who was kidnapped on Dec. 27, 2020, and released several days later on Jan. 1.

Elsewhere, priests were killed in Mexico and Angola. In June 2021, Franciscan priest Juan Antonio Orozco Alvarado, of the Prelature of Nayar, was killed in Mexico’s Durango state by crossfire between rival cartels.

In March 2021, Colombian priest Manuel Ubaldo Jáuregui Vega was fatally stabbed in Angola while he was there for missionary work.

Pope Francis greets a crowd of an estimated 25,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square in Rome for his Regina Caeli address on May 22.

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