PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (The Catholic Standard and Times) - Samuel Masih was a simple street cleaner. One day, while cleaning a garden in Lahore, the twenty-seven-year-old Pakistani Catholic was accused of deliberately piling garbage against the wall of a mosque. He was arrested and thrown in jail, where he was repeatedly tortured for his faith. While being treated for tuberculosis, which he contracted in prison, a police constable decided to earn a place in Janna' (Paradise) by killing him with a brick-cutting hammer.
Thousands of miles away, on a beautiful mid-August day, thirty-two-year-old Fr. Jesus Adrian Sanchez was giving religious instruction at a school in the rural area of Chaparral (Tolima), Colombia. An armed man burst into the classroom, ordered him outside, and shot him dead.
Deep in the Brazilian rainforest, a seventy-three-year-old Sister of Notre Dame, Dorothy Stang, was used to living among people who wanted her dead. She had long been trying to protect peasant laborers from exploitation by logging firms and ranchers. One day, while walking to a meeting of poor farmers near the town of Anapu in the western Brazilian state of Parŕ, two armed men intercepted her on the path. She knew what they were there to do. Taking out her Bible, she began reading to them and, for a precious few minutes, they listened before opening fire. Sr. Stang was shot six times in the head, throat, and body.
These are only three of the more than 100 Catholics who bear the unique distinction of being the first martyrs of the twenty-first century.
According to the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the official martyrology contains the names of 132 Catholics who have died for the faith since 2001. But this is not a complete list. Its 2005 report acknowledges that there are "many more possible 'unknown soldiers of the faith' in remote corners of the planet whose deaths may never be reported."