A Latter-day Saint mission president who battled COVID-19 for nearly two months died Tuesday, becoming the eighth full-time missionary — and second mission president — for the Utah-based faith to die this year, though this was the first missionary fatality in 2021 to be publicly linked to the coronavirus.
José Maria Batalla, who with his wife, Valeria, led the Bolivia Cochabamba Mission, died of cardiac arrest weeks after contracting COVID-19, Sam Penrod, spokesperson for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a news release.
The 60-year-old Batalla, who hailed from Nordelta, Argentina, was in a rehabilitation hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
His wife was at his side, Penrod noted. The couple, who have two daughters and two sons, had been serving as mission leaders since July 2020; he had previously served as an area Seventy, a lay stake (regional) president and bishop for the church.
“We express our love and condolences to President Batalla’s family, along with the missionaries he led,” the release stated. “We pray that all will feel the Savior’s love as they honor and remember this faithful leader and his devotion to the church.”
Nearly half of the eight Latter-day Saint missionary deaths this year have been in vehicle accidents; the others came from various health ailments.
In January, a 24-year-old elder serving in his home country of Haiti died after being admitted to a hospital with “health complications”; a 19-year-old elder from Utah was killed in a car crash in Arkansas; and a 20-year-old Nigerian serving a mission in his homeland died after a “sudden health episode (unrelated to COVID-19).”
In March, a 21-year-old missionary drowned in his homeland of El Salvador, and a 48-year-old mission president in the Philippines died of an apparent heart attack.
In May, an 18-year-old missionary from Utah and his 20-year-old companion from Colorado were killed in a head-on collision in Denton, Texas.