Catholics in Russia learned today that two priests, Frs. Otto Messmer and Victor Betancourt, both Jesuits, were beaten to death at their apartment in Moscow.
According to the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Russia, the two priests’ bodies were discovered at around 9:00 p.m. on October 28 at the Moscow apartment owned by the Jesuits.
The Jesuit Conference reports that a fellow Jesuit discovered the priests after he went on their apartment to check on them. Upon finding their bodies, he contacted the police.
The police determined that though the priests were found in the same apartment, the murders took place on different days. Father Victor Betancourt Ruiz (42) from Ecuador was killed on October 25, and Father Otto Messmer (47), who was the Provincial of the Jesuits in Russia was murdered two days later after returning home from a trip abroad. The motive for the murders is yet to be determined.
The bishops’ conference press release about the deaths of the priests describes them as “Zealous pastors, much loved by their devotees,” a sentiment that was echoed by the president of ACN, Father Joaquín Alliende. In a letter to the superior general of the Jesuits, Fr. Alliende expressed his "deep anguish" at the murder of these two priests, who had both been involved "in fruitful contacts" with ACN and adding that the charity had "been privileged to witness their generous commitment in the service of the Catholics of Moscow."
On Wednesday, Patriarch Alexey II of the Russian Orthodox Church expressed his sympathies to the Catholic Church during his meeting with the chairman of the French episcopal conference, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois. Likewise, representatives of the Muslims in Russia have conveyed their dismay at these murders and their deep sympathy, ACN reports.
A memorial service was held today at 6:00 p.m. local time in the Catholic cathedral of Moscow.