The tragic murder of seminarian Michael Nnadi was reported by his bishop last week. Michael was only 18 years old and was studying to be a priest for the Diocese of Sokoto, Nigeria, when he along with three confreres were kidnapped during a January 8th raid on Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, located in the northwest part of the country. The bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, reported on February 1st that three of the four seminarians have finally been released, but that Matthew was killed.
Nigeria is far from the only country in which one risks his life to be a Christian, but it is certainly among the most dangerous. The Islamic terrorists of Boko Haram have killed tens of thousands and have displaced over 2 million. In addition, there are the less ideologically motivated but equally violent bandits who kidnap and kill for profit. In the last year alone several priests and seminarians, along with pastors from other Christian denominations, have been kidnapped in Nigeria, some for ransom and some by Islamist terrorists. All were targeted for their faith.
The president of the Nigerian Bishop’s Conference, Archbishop Obiora Akubeze, has launched an appeal to the West to make the atrocities suffered by Christians throughout his country better known. In an interview with the papal foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), he called on Western governments and media “to make known the atrocities” taking place in Nigeria so pressure can be placed on his government to do what is necessary “to protect the lives of Christians and all Nigerians who are constantly attacked and killed by Boko Haram and the Islamist Fulani herdsmen.”
The tragic death of Michael Nnadi should not only draw our attention, once again, to the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in the Faith throughout the world, but also to the specific sacrifice being made by those brave young men who have freely chosen to “die” to the world in order to live solely for Christ by entering the seminary to become priests. Seminarians deserve a special place in our prayers; more than anything, what the Church needs today are good and holy priests. There are seminarians answering this need who bravely risk their lives to become priests in countries such as Nigeria, while others are facing the secular and vulgar popular culture of the West, where the Church is often racked by scandal and in decline.
To honor Michael Nnadi’s memory, let us better appreciate, support, and pray for seminarians. These men are answering God’s call in incredibly difficult circumstances and deserve this from us. Michael Nnadi’s two-fold sacrifice of choosing to become a priest and then dying for his faith in Christ recalls the sacrifice of other seminarian-martyrs in the Church’s history, whose intercession we could implore on behalf of all the seminarians of today that their vocations be strengthened and protected.
Blessed Rolando Rivi
The close of the Second World War was a time of great tension in Italy. Anti-clerical and socialist partisans were seeking to rid the country of any fascist remnants. The Communists among them believed this ought to include the Church. From 1943 to 1949, some 4,500 people were killed in the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy by Communist brigands. 93 of those killed were priests and one among them was a young seminarian, a 14-year-old named Rolando Rivi.
In 1944 Nazi troops occupied his seminary and he and all the others were dismissed. Upon returning home to San Valentino, Rivi never stopped wearing his cassock. This was dangerous as even his own parish priest was attacked by the Communist partisans and was forced to be transferred to a more secure location. When he was warned not not to don the cassock for his own safety, Rivi is said to have replied: “I study to be a priest, and this is a sign that I belong to Jesus.”
While his seminary was closed Rivi spent his days home in San Valentino studying and helping at his parish until the morning of April 10, 1945, when he was kidnapped after serving Mass. He was held and tortured for three days and when some of the partisans proposed to let him go being so young, it was decided that he should rather be killed so there would be “one less future priest.” After Rivi was shot and left for dead in the woods, his cassock was carried around by the partisans like a trophy.
When Rolando Rivi was beatified in Modena on October 5th, 2013, nearly 20,000 people were in attendance.
Martyrs of Oviedo
A period of the gruesome Spanish Civil War in the 1930s is known as the “Red Terror” when the Communist forces killed more than 6,800 clergy or religious. Among them were nine seminarians of the Archdiocese of Oviedo.
When seminarian Mariano Suárez Fernández was shot in June 1934, his confreres studying to be priests for the Archdiocese did not succumb to fear and abandon their vocations. When republican forces overran Spain’s northern Asturias region they further kept to their resolve—even when these same forces descended upon their seminary on October 7, 1934. Ángel Cuartas Cristóbal, Jesús Prieto López, César Gonzalo Zurro Fanjul, José María Fernández Muñoz and Juan José Castañón Fernández were dragged to an open square and shot before an angry crowd.
Later in the war, the 22 year-old seminarian Luis Prado García was captured and told to raise his hand and proclaim “Long live the Republic.” Instead, he raised his hand and shouted Viva Cristo Rey—“Long live Christ the King!” He was shot to death 11 times. After being pursued by the communists, Sixto Alonso Helva was held up in a church with his father. Upon his capture and before being stabbed to death he urged his family to forgive his persecutors. The last of these martyrs was killed on his way to a newly ordained priest’s first Mass. While held in jail he sent a letter to his family assuring them that he would die declaring “Viva Cristo Rey”. The circumstances of his death are unknown and his mortal remains have never been recovered. He was 25 years old.
These nine martyrs were beatified last March. The Prefect for the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Becciu said of them at the Mass offered in the cathedral of Oviedo: “They were determined to follow the call of Jesus, despite the climate of religious intolerance, and knew the snares and dangers they faced.”
What Cardinal Becciu said of the martyrs of Oviedo can be said of the seminarians of today. They know the snares and dangers they face and yet, still generously answer the Lord’s call to become priests. How sad a world it would be without priests! St. Jean Vianney captures this sentiment best:
Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in the tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for the journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest—always the priest…What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door…
May the intercession of Michael Nnadi, Blessed Rolando Rivi and the Martyrs of Oviedo bless, guide, and protect today’s seminarians till the day they reach the heights of the altar as priests to continue God’s work of redemption on Earth.