ROME – On Sunday the Orthodox-majority nation of Romania marked its first ever National Day of Awareness of Violence against Christians, a move intended to honor Romanian martyrs and raise awareness about global anti-Christian persecution.

In June, the Romanian government approved a law put forward by Daniel Gheorghe, a member of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies, instituting Aug. 16 as the National Day of Awareness of Violence against Christians.

In an explanatory noted that accompanied the news, Gheorghe said he drafted the law in order to inform the public, particularly young people, of the role Christianity has played in Romania’s history and to highlight the nature and extent of Christian persecution in modern times.

The choice of Aug. 16 coincides with the Orthodox feast commemorating the Brâncoveanu Martyrs – Prince Constantine Brâncoveanu, his four sons and one of his advisers – who were canonized by the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1992.

Tradition holds that Brâncoveanu, who ruled Wallachia at the time, his sons Constantin, Radu, Ştefan and Matei, and his treasurer Ianache Vacarescu were captured when Muslim Ottoman Turks invaded Romania in 1714 and taken to Istanbul.

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They were then tortured and, on Aug. 15 – Brâncoveanu’s 60th birthday and the Orthodox Feast of the Dormition – they were brought before Sultan Ahmed III of Turkey and told that if they renounced their Christian faith and converted to Islam,  Brâncoveanu’s family would survive. They refused and were each beheaded, and their bodies thrown into the Bosphorus. It is said that Christian fisherman later recovered their bodies and buried them at a monastery close to the city.

In an Aug. 13 statement, the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate, led by Patriarch Daniel, voiced appreciation for the move, saying the Brâncoveanu Martyrs “illustrated martyrdom as the ultimate proof of love for Christ in the history of the Romanian Christianity.”

“That is why the proclamation of a national commemoration day for their martyrdom should be for us an opportunity to become more aware of today’s violence against Christians,” the patriarchate said, noting that this violence “takes different forms of persecution today, from the Christophobia of the new ideologies to the filmed executions of those whose only guilt is that of being Christian.”

“In this context, the Romanian Patriarchate advocates for the memorial recovery of Christian martyrdom and for the protection and promotion of religious freedom as a fundamental right of every human person,” the statement continued.

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According to a 2019 report commissioned by the UK government, Christians are currently the most persecuted religious group in the world, comprising roughly 80 percent of all religiously motivated violence and discrimination.

In May 2019, just ahead of a 3-day visit to Romania, Pope Francis recognized the martyrdom of seven bishops of the Eastern-rite Romanian Catholic Church, who died during a sweeping anti-religious campaign in communist-era Romania.

One of the bishops – Iuliu Hossu of Gherla – was made a cardinal by St. Pope Paul VI in pectore, meaning “in his heart,” with the publication of his name being kept secret until 1973. Hossu was released from prison in 1955 and spent the rest of his life in house arrest, dying in 1970 at the age of 85.

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According to a 2018 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, Romania is the most religious nation in Europe in terms of the importance people ascribe to religion in daily life, regular practice and prayer life, and their certainty of belief.

On Sunday, Aug. 16, several important buildings and monuments will be illuminated red to mark the new National Day of Awareness of Violence against Christians, including St. George the New Church in Bucharest, which was founded by Brâncoveanu, as well as the Romanian Parliament, the Arc de Triumph, and the Mogosoaia Palace, which was also built by Brâncoveanu.

Other events linked to the commemorative day will be allowed to receive funding from the government and local authorities, as well as NGOs who wish to step in for logistical and financial support.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen