Two Jesuits murdered in Moscow

October 29, 2008 in General, News

russia_01.jpgYour prayers are requested for the repose of the souls of two Jesuits who were murdered in Moscow yesterday, 28 October. Otto Messmer, aged 46, a Russian national and the Regional Superior (left in picture), and Victor Betancourt, aged 42, an Ecuadoran who has been based in Russia since 2000 and did his Tertianship in Dublin in 2006-7 (right in picture), were found in their apartment in downtown Moscow having been stabbed to death. According to news reports, Otto and Victor died of both knife wounds and head injuries. The motive for the attack is as yet unknown, and a criminal case has been opened. A requiem Mass for the two Jesuits will be said by Archbishop Paolo Pezzi at 6pm, Wednesday 29 October, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow.

From Interfax, a Russian news service:

“At 9:20 p.m. on October 28, the chief accountant of the religious organization Society of Jesus called on the police. He said he had found the bodies of two members of the organization – a 42 year-old Ecuadorian and a 46 year-old Russian in an apartment located at Petrovka, 19, building 5, which is owned by the religious organization,” a source told Interfax.

russia_02.jpgThe law enforcement officers and experts who came to the scene found that the two men had died of head injuries. A criminal case has been opened.

The Russian Orthodox Church has extended its condolences in connection with the killing.

“I would like to extend my condolences to the administration of Russian Catholics and the Russian office of the Jesuit Order,” the Priest Igor Vyzhanov, secretary of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, told Interfax-Religion on Wednesday.

Fr. Igor said he is hoping this case will be duly investigated by the public bodies.

From SJ Press and Information Office, Rome:


Two Jesuits, Fathers Otto Messmer and Victor Betancourt, killed in Moscow

On Saturday 25 October, Father Victor Betancourt, an Ecuadorian Jesuit working in the St. Thomas Philosophical, Theological and Historical Institute in Moscow, was killed in his home. Two days later, after returning from a trip abroad, Father Otto Messmer, Superior of the Russian Region, was also killed in the same place. On Tuesday 28 October, alarmed by the fact that he hadn’t heard from the two men, a fellow Jesuit who lives in another community went to visit them at home. On finding the dead bodies, he immediately contacted the police.

The police investigations have yet to come to any firm conclusions about cause of these violent deaths.

Father Otto Messmer, son of a profoundly Catholic family of German origin and a Russian citizen, was born on 14 July 1961 in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. He entered into the Society of Jesus on 1 September 1982 in Vilnius and was ordained a priest on 29 May 1988 in Riga. He took his final vows in Novosibirsk on 7 October 2001 and was appointed Superior of the Independent Region of Russia of the Society of Jesus on 13 October 2002. Two of his brothers are Jesuits: Monsignor Nikolaus, Bishop of the Kyrgyzstani city of Bishkek, and Hieronymus, from the German Province.

Father Victor Betancourt was born on 7 July 1966 in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He entered into the Society of Jesus on 14 September 1984 in Quito and was ordained a priest in the same city on 31 July 1997. He undertook his Jesuit training in Argentina, Ecuador, Germany and Italy. In 2004, he defended his doctoral thesis in Theology in the city of Rome. Since 2001, he had been responsible for those considering a vocation as Jesuits and at the time of his death he was a theology professor in the St. Thomas Philosophical, Theological and Historical Institute in Moscow.

Father General, Adolfo Nicolás SJ, issued an appeal to all Jesuits to provide assistance and support to, and demonstrate their solidarity with, the Jesuits of the Russian Region in this difficult moment. He expressed his closeness to families of the deceased and thanked the Church for issuing its condolences as soon as the news of the tragedy was made public.

Father General Nicolás urged the whole Society to pray that our fellow Jesuits rest in eternal peace and for an end of all forms of violence.

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Victor Betancourt

Victor Betancourt Ruiz, 40, from Ecuador, joined the Society of Jesus twenty-two years ago. After the novitiate he studied philosophy for five years in Argentina and obtained two licentiates. He spent two years in Ecuador working as a vocations promoter and then started his theological studies. In Frankfurt he received a Master’s degree in theology and, in Rome at the Gregorian University, a licentiate in dogmatic theology. After ordination to the priesthood in 1997 he worked as a vocations promoter in Ecuador and in 2000 went to Moscow as a vocations promoter for Russia. At the same time, in 2004, he finished his doctorate in dogmatic theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. In 2006-7 he was in Dublin to do his tertianship, a stage in Jesuit formation before last vows. He then took his last vows in Russia and was working there.