Victor Betancourt, 42, and Otto Messmer, 47, were found stabbed late Tuesday, October 28, in an apartment on Petrovka street in downtown Moscow, said the Catholic Russian Bishops Conference (CRBC). "They were brutally murdered," added CRBC General Secretary Igor Kowalewski.
He was unaware of any threats against Messmer, a Russian citizen from Germany, and Victor Betancourt, a national of Ecuador. However rights groups have expressed concerns about reports of persecution of especially non-Orthodox Christians and missionaries in Russia.
Police investigators said the two men had died of blows to the head and knife wounds. Authorities said the motive for the killing was unknown.
Jesuits, also known as the Society of Jesus, are the biggest male religious order in the Catholic Church. On November 5, a funeral mass was to be held in the Moscow Immaculate Conception Cathedral. Following the mass, the deceased were to be transferred to Ecuador and Germany, Interfax said.
In addition, Catholic parishes across Russia will reportedly have prayer services for the murdered priests.
Priest Messmer was born to a big family of German Catholics in 1966. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1982 in Vilnius, Lithuania and was ordained a priest six years later, reports said. Since 2002, he was reportedly a religious administrator and teacher in Russia for the Jesuits.
Priest Betancourt, a citizen of Ecuador, joined the organization in 1984 and was educated in Argentina and Germany, Interfax reported. Since 2001, Betancourt worked in Russia and became in 2008 a representative at St. Thomas Institute of Philosophy, Theology and History in Moscow, the agency said.
Both priests were said to have been actively involved in the large St. Louis church in Moscow.