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Amanda Casanova

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

A Swiss missionary who was kidnapped in January 2016 has been killed by Islamist extremists.

The woman, Beatrice Stöckli, was “apparently killed by kidnappers of the Islamist terrorist organization Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslim (JNIM) about a month ago,” according to the Swiss Foreign Ministry.

Christianity Today reports that Beatrice was killed just weeks before other hostages were freed, including Sophie Petronin, a 75-year-old French aid worker.

It’s unclear how Beatrice was killed.

“It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of our fellow citizen,” said Swiss Federal Councilor Ignazio Cassis. “I condemn this cruel act and express my deepest sympathy to the relatives.”

Swiss officials said they “worked over the past four years, together with the relevant Malian authorities and with international partners, to ensure that the Swiss citizen was released and can return to her family. Members of the Federal Council have personally and repeatedly lobbied the relevant Malian authorities for her release. An interdepartmental task force under the leadership of the Foreign Affairs Ministry was deployed. The task force also included representatives of … [the police, the intelligence services] … and the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. In addition, the authorities were in constant contact with the victim’s family.”

Beatrice was a missionary who settled in Timbuktu, Mali in 2000 and worked for a Swiss church and also served with Germany-based missionary group Neues Leben Ghana (New Life Ghana).

She was single and sold flowers and distributed Christian materials.

In January 2016, armed men kidnapped her from her home.

The 2016 kidnapping was the second time she had been kidnapped by Islamist groups. Previously in 2012, she was taken from northern Mali and released 10 days later. She returned home to Switzerland, but later traveled back to live in Mali.

“It’s Timbuktu or nothing,” she told friends and family.

The group responsible for her kidnapping also released videos with Beatrice. In one, a masked speaker says she was a “Swiss nun who declared war against Islam in her attempt to Christianize Muslims.” In another, a woman identified as Beatrice but masked by a veil thanks the Swiss government “for all the efforts they have made.”

Photo courtesy: Tabea Shmooeli Facebook

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Catholic missions are struggling amid dwindling vocations and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data released by the Vatican ahead of the World Mission Day this Sunday (Oct. 18).

The number of priests and ordained leaders has dropped significantly, especially in Europe and America, according to the report issued on Friday by the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, charged with distributing clergy and coordinating missions around the world.

The total number of priests in the world decreased to 414,065 in 2018, with Europe registering a drop of 2,675 priests compared to 2017. The report also reveals a slight decrease in the number of Catholic faithful in America, Europe and Oceania. Meanwhile, Africa and Asia continue to show signs of growth, according to the data.

“We mustn’t be afraid! Mission goes on thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit,” said Archbishop Protase Rugambwa, the secretary of the evangelizing congregation, during a press conference at the Vatican on Friday.

However, the diminishing number of clergy coincides with an increase in the global population, putting pressure on priests who must minister to larger numbers of people. As of December 2018, the report shows, there are 1,328,993,000 Catholics in the world.

As a result, there are an average of 14,638 faithful per priest. This shortage of priests combined with a growing population have put a strain on evangelizing and missionary efforts globally.

The number of women leaders has also experienced a decline of 7,249 sisters, a drop similar to the one reported in 2017. Once again, the data shows, Europe and America have experienced the most significant decrease in women religious.

The number of seminarians declined, especially in America and Europe. In particular, minor seminaries for high-school-age individuals wishing to become priests has dropped for the third consecutive year everywhere except in Asia.

The reasons for the steady hemorrhage of Catholic clergy worldwide are varied, from secularization to the church’s ongoing sexual and financial scandals. But the COVID-19 pandemic has also created a challenge for donations after closing churches and stalling missionary efforts.

“The biggest challenge that many churches in mission territories had to face was church closures and therefore the lack of celebration and the resulting lack of collection at Mass,” said Archbishop Giampietro Dal Toso, president of the Pontifical Mission Societies, at the press conference.

“As you can easily imagine, many of these ecclesial realities rely solely on Sunday offerings and don’t have a centralized system of support,” he added.

In order to ease the financial struggles brought on by the pandemic, Pope Francis created an emergency fund for missions worldwide, comprising $1,299,700 collected globally, used to sustain more than 250 missionary projects.

Most of the money was sent to local dioceses for the support of priests, Dal Toso explained, as well as Catholic communities, schools and struggling family units.

While the number of clergy might be declining globally, the presence of lay missionaries is on the rise. The number of lay Catholic missionaries has grown by 20,388, to a total of 376,188, primarily in America and Asia.

The number of catechists (lay leaders who teach the basics of Catholicism, mostly to children), while showing a downward curve globally, experienced positive growth in Africa and Asia. On the American continent however, the number of catechists dropped by a whopping 40,846 people.

The theme of this year’s World Mission Day, which falls on Oct. 18, is “Here am I, send me.” Its purpose is to highlight the missionary efforts led by the Catholic Church and organize events globally to promote donations. This year, due to the pandemic, the events will for the most part take place virtually.

In his message for the global Catholic event, Pope Francis acknowledged that “understanding what God is saying to us at this time of pandemic also represents a challenge for the Church’s mission.”

“In this context, the call to mission, the invitation to step out of ourselves for love of God and neighbor, presents itself as an opportunity for sharing, service and intercessory prayer,” he added.


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: ©RNS/AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

(RNS) — First the tents went up in Cremona, Italy. Then New York City. 

And now in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas.

It’s been a busy year for Samaritan’s Purse, the humanitarian relief organization led by Franklin Graham. On Thursday (Oct. 15), the group announced it was deploying a field hospital to Nassau after an increase in COVID-19 cases had overwhelmed the local health care system.

Plans call for a 28-bed field hospital and a team of doctors and nurses trained in infectious diseases to partner with Nassau’s Princess Margaret Hospital and the Bahamian Ministry of Health.

Samaritan’s Purse said the request for the field hospital came from the Bahamian prime minister in response to medical facilities that are filled to capacity.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends travelers avoid all nonessential international travel to the Bahamas. The nation, made up of hundreds of small islands, has had 5,100 cases of COVID-19, with about 480 new cases in the last week. It has reported 109 deaths as of Thursday.

Samaritan’s Purse has been in the Bahamas before. After Hurricane Dorian hit last year, the organization opened a 40-bed field hospital on Grand Bahama. It also opened a country office in the Bahamas to meet ongoing needs for clean water and the rebuilding of homes damaged by the hurricane.

The organization’s field hospitals are made up of a series of portable tents wired for electricity, heating and water. In New York City, the field hospital included a fully staffed pharmacy and lab and intensive care unit beds with ventilators. The field hospital treated 191 patients — mostly in the month of April when the city experienced its worst surge of cases. It was dismantled in early May.

A smaller, 30-bed field hospital was airlifted to King Salmon, Alaska, in June, but was never deployed.

The first field hospital set up by Samaritan’s Purse was deployed in 2016 in response to the earthquake in Ecuador. The organization also set up an emergency field hospital about 12 miles from Mosul, Iraq, during the 2016-17 battle for the city.

“Hospital staff are overwhelmed and exhausted as the number of coronavirus patients in the Bahamas reaches an all-time high,” Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, said in a statement. “Our teams respond to the hard places in Jesus’ Name; this is the right place to go to make a difference in the lives of hurting families.”


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: Franklin Graham's Facebook