Pope prays for missionaries, including Irish priest, killed in Kenya

December 14, 2009

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI offered prayers for four missionaries killed in Africa, including an Irish priest who had worked on development for 41 years in Kenya and was found murdered Dec. 11 in his parish residence.

Father Jeremiah Roche, a member of the St. Patrick Missionary Society, known as the Kiltegan Fathers, was killed during a robbery attempt, police said.

Speaking with Catholic News Service at Father Roche’s home, Bishop Emmanuel Okombo of Kericho in western Kenya said he was shocked to learn of the 68-year-old missionary’s death.

“How can they eliminate the priest?” Bishop Okombo said. “It is sad indeed that murderers can target God’s servants.”

He challenged the government to boost security to prevent such random acts of violence. He cited other attacks on priests across Kenya in recent years.

Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, president of the Irish bishops’ conference, said the gruesome circumstances surrounding Father Roche’s death have “shocked all those who loved and admired him in his parish in Kericho and in his home parish of Athea, County Limerick, where he planned to retire next year.”

“Father Roche’s death is a reminder to us of the great sacrifice of those who risk their lives answering God’s call to bring the Good News to the poorest of the poor around the world,” the cardinal said in a statement Dec. 14.

After his Angelus address Dec. 13, Pope Benedict offered prayers for Father Roche, for a priest and a nun killed in separate incidents in Congo and for a priest murdered in South Africa the same week.

The news wire AFP reported that Monsignor Daniel Cizimya was killed by armed men in his home in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo Dec. 5. Two days later in the same area, Sister Denise Kahambo Maharirwa was shot dead by gunmen who raided a Trappist monastery.

In South Africa, a French priest, Father Louis Blondel, was shot dead during a burglary at his rectory in Diepsloot, Dec. 9, according to a statement on the web site of the Southern African Bishops; Conference. He was a member of the Missionaries of Africa and had worked in South Africa since 1987.

“They were faithful witnesses of the Gospel who knew how to proclaim it with courage, even at the risk of their own lives,” the pope said. He prayed God would grant the four eternal rest, “console those who weep at their passing and, with his coming, bring reconciliation and peace.”

Juliana Sulivan told CNS that when Father Roche did not show up for a 7 a.m. Mass Dec. 11, she and others went to his residence looking for him.

“I shouted ‘Father, Father’ and there was no response,” she said. “We later discovered that the window was broken and we sensed all was not well.”

Father Roche was well known across the Kericho Diocese, having worked at parishes in Kipchimchim, Londiani, Roret and Chebangang.

Irish President Mary McAleese sent her sympathy to the priest’s family and the Kiltegan Fathers. “Our thoughts and prayers are especially with the Roche family as they face this sad loss and tragic news,” she said in a statement.

Micheal Martin, Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs, pledged that the country’s honorary consul in Kenya will maintain close contact with Kenyan authorities “to ensure that a full investigation is carried out and that every effort is made to apprehend Father Roche’s attackers.”

Police had no motive in the killing and said only a CD player, laptop computer and two cell phones were missing. Their investigation is continuing.