On Wednesday 22 November 2023 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne will host the second annual Night of the Witnesses, presided over by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli.
An initiative of Aid to the Church Need (ACN), the Night of the Witnesses is an evening of testimony, prayer and song that honours the martyrs of today, those people who continue to lose their lives for the Christian faith around the world.
It is an opportunity to hear their stories, be inspired by their faith and pray before the Blessed Sacrament for the persecuted Church everywhere.
Every year a number of martyrs are selected, and their names, faces and stories highlighted on the evening. This year, three groups will be featured.
Here is a snapshot of their stories.
Fr José Martín Guzmán Vega was 55 years old when he was stabbed several times in his sacristy on 22 August 2019, dying a few hours later in hospital. He was the pastor of the parish of Christ the King of La Paz in northern Mexico. Fr José exercised his ministry within the framework of the Penitentiary Pastoral. He was the 26th priest murdered in Mexico since 2012.
In Quetta, Pakistan, on 17 December 2017, an attack occurred at a Sunday service in the Methodist church, where more than 400 people were gathered. The attack left at least eight dead and 30 wounded by the Islamic State group. On Sunday 15 April 2018, two worshippers were murdered and five seriously injured as they came out of a church service in Quetta, in another attack claimed by ISIS.
In August 2023, a devastating attack on churches and Christian homes followed an allegation of blasphemy. Christians are still living in fear of such accusations, which are often misused against minorities to settle personal conflicts.
Br Diego Bedoya was 35 years old when he was stabbed to death in his office on 10 April 2017 in La Victoria, northern Venezuela.
He was a Franciscan of the White Cross, a Colombian national who had been living in Venezuela for more than 15 years. Diego oversaw a shelter for the elderly and children with disabilities. He knew his murderers, two young boys whom he helped regularly.
Fr René Bayang Regalado was 42 years old when he was shot dead by gunmen on Sunday 24 January 2021 on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.
Ordained a priest in 2007, Fr Regalado was nicknamed ‘the priest of the mountains’ because he often visited the most isolated communities and was keen to support farmers in their efforts to introduce organic and more sustainable agriculture. He is the fourth Catholic priest killed in the Philippines since December 2017.
Fr Samaan Shehata was 51 years old when he was stabbed to death by an Islamist terrorist on 12 October 2017 in Cairo, Egypt.
The Coptic Orthodox archpriest of St Julius of Aqfahs, Upper Egypt, was visiting the capital along with another Coptic priest, Fr Bayman Moftah, who was also injured. Their attacker confessed to attacking them as soon as he saw them in Coptic religious clothing.
In Iraq, violence against Christians has risen since 2003, with many incidences of abduction, torture and killings. Numerous attacks on Christian churches have taken place, including the 2010 attack on Our Lady of Deliverance Church, where two priests and 44 worshippers were killed.
In August 2014, about 12,000 Christians of the Nineveh Plains were forced to flee, with many killed. Many clergy and religious lost their lives, including Archbishop Paulos Rahho, Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul.
Fr Hovsep Hanna Bedoyan was 43 years old when he was killed with his father by two armed men on a motorcycle on 11 November 2019 while they were on their way to Deir ez-Zor in Syria to coordinate the work of the Martyrs’ Church.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on this parish priest of the Armenian Catholic Church in Qamichli.
Four Missionaries of Charity sisters—Sr Marguerite, 44, and Sr Reginette, 32, both from Rwanda; Sr Judith, 41, from Kenya; and Sr Anselm, 57, from India—were all murdered on 4 March 2016 in Aden, Yemen.
Twelve other people died in this terrorist attack on the building where the sisters devoted themselves to caring for the elderly and disabled. Fr Tom Uzhunnalil, an Indian Salesian priest residing at the nuns’ convent, was abducted in the attack and remained in captivity for 18 months before being released.
Sr Ruvadiki Kamundiya was 49 years old when she was raped and murdered on 22 October 2017 in Mutoko, eastern Zimbabwe, while she was meditating at the shrine of the Glorious Cross.
The nun was a teacher at Hartmann House in Harare. She had gone to Mutoko to prepare for a school trip planned for a few days later.
Therese Kapangala was just 24 years old when she was killed on 21 January 2018 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Therese was a future postulant among the nuns of the Holy Family. She gave her life to protect a girl’s life at a demonstration after Sunday Mass.
Michael Nnadi was an 18-year-old seminarian who was kidnapped by unknown assailants on 8 January 2020 from the Good Shepherd seminary in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna. While his three colleagues were released one after the other, Michael Nnadi was found dead on Saturday 1 February 2020.
Michael was an orphan who was raised by his grandmother. He had commenced seminary studies only a few weeks earlier. His only crime was his desire to serve God. Abductions of Christians are commonplace in the federal state of Kaduna.
Sr Mary Daniel Abut and Sr Regina Roba Luate were killed on 16 August 2021 in South Sudan, during an ambush by armed men.
The two nuns from the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were returning from the Mass celebrating the centenary of the Notre-Dame de l’Assomption parish in the Diocese of Torit, in the east of the country, when their bus was attacked.
They were shot as they escaped from the bus, which the gunmen intended to burn. ‘The two murdered nuns are our martyrs,’ the Archbishop of Juba said at their funeral.
With its origins at Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur cathedrals in Paris over 15 years ago, Night of the Witnesses is now a regular feature in cities around the world, including Madrid, London, Washington DC and Krakow.
This year, the Night of the Witnesses is being held at St Patrick’s Cathedral on Wednesday 22 November 2023, 7–8.30pm.
All images of the witnesses are courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need.
Christian Bergmann22 November 2022
Aid to the Church in Need09 November 2022