ROME— Pope Francis on Saturday said “martyrdom,” not “genocide,” is the best word to describe what’s happening today to Christians in places such as Iraq, Syria and Libya, where large numbers of Christians are either being killed or driven into exile at the hands of Islamic radicals.
“Genocide,” the pope said, is a “reductive” description of a complex reality shaped by a basically sociological perspective.
“The tragedy of the Christian community around the word… it’s true,” Francis said, answering a question put to him during a visit to Rome’s Villa Nazareth. “But this is the destiny of a Christian. Giving witness is a difficult situation. I don’t like it when [some] speak of a Christian genocide in the Middle East: It’s a reductionism.”
He made an appeal not to make a “sociological reductionism” of something which is “a mystery of faith: Martyrdom.”
Speaking about 13 Egyptian Copts beheaded by the Islamic terrorist group ISIS in 2014, Francis said they weren’t “theologians, but doctors of Christian coherence, they were witnesses of the faith.”
Francis added that “we shouldn’t fool ourselves,” because “cruel martyrdom” isn’t the only way to give testimony of the Christian faith.
“There’s the martyrdom of blood for Christians, but also the martyrdom of every day, the martyrdom of honesty in this world that can be called ‘the paradise of bribes.’”
This paradise, he said, means only doing something to receive something, and where there’s a lack of courage to refuse dirty money: “It’s a world where many parents feed their children the dirty bread of the double life!”
The courage of martyrdom, Francis said, is a “gift of the Holy Spirit,” adding that in today’s world, courage is needed to “not be ashamed of being seen as a Christian.”
But according to the pontiff, martyrdom doesn’t only imply courage, but also patience to “hold over our backs the weight of each day, including pain, including our own sins, our own inconsistencies.”
Christians, he said, are men and women who have weaknesses, adding that this is something with which to be reconciled. Acknowledging that it wasn’t exactly a “correct” image, Francis illustrated his words using the example of a peacock.
“Christian consistency is feeling like sinners, in need of forgiveness,” he said. Yet for those who go around flaunting perfection, like a peacock, Francis said they exhibit “a beautiful reality,” but added, “turn them around: This is also the reality of the peacock!”
The pope’s remarks came as he visited the Villa Nazareth College in Rome, run by the association Comunità Domenico Tardini, which takes in low-income students. [Tardini was the Vatican’s Secretary of State during the papacy of St. Pope John XXIII].
As a footnote, the improvised remarks are reported based on what Pope Francis said during his address, which lasted close to 90 minutes. The Vatican may eventually release a transcript which, with the pontiff’s approval, revises what he actually said.
Francis’s response regarding Christian martyrdom came when one of those present asked him if he’d ever had a “crisis of faith” amidst what’s going on in the world, included the suffering of Christians.
The pontiff defined the question as a “courageous” one to ask a pope, and then admitted that “many times I find myself in a crisis of faith. Some times I’ve questioned Jesus: ‘But why do you allow this?’”
Acknowledging that these crises of faith are something he’s experienced through all his life, “as a kid, as a religious, as a priest, as a bishop, and as pope,” Francis said that a Christian “who hasn’t doubts, who hasn’t had a crisis of faith, is a Christian who’s missing something… he’s a Christian who settles with a bit of worldliness and goes through life like this.”
Francis’s visit to the villa, which was established in 1946 by Tardini, and which today enjoys the sponsorship of Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, another veteran Vatican diplomat, came in two stages.
First, he addressed the students living in the house today, reflecting on the Gospel passage of the Good Samaritan who helps a man that had been attacked by robbers. Afterwards he answered seven questions, speaking to some 1,300 people, between alumni, volunteers and family members, gathered in the garden of the college.
Speaking to the students gathered in the chapel, Francis said he hoped they found the guidance of a priest who has time to listen, and that they may be saved from the doctors of the law who want to “present Jesus’ law with a mathematical rigidity.”
Francis was also asked about marriage and the indissolubility of the sacrament amidst a culture of the provisional. The pontiff was asked a similar question on Thursday, as he addressed Rome’s pastoral outreach conference. His remarks were almost a carbon-copy of what he said then, giving the same anecdotes to illustrate his points.
However, on Thursday he said that “the great majority of sacramental marriages today are null,” because young couples enter the Sacrament without fully understanding it’s meaning and what the commitment of “forever” means.
When the Vatican provided a transcript to the talk, 12 hours after the fact, and with the express agreement of the pontiff, “great majority” was changed to “a part.”
On Saturday, Francis refrained from saying marriages are null, but did say that “a part” of those who marry today don’t really know what they are doing. Grooms and brides say “yes, I know it’s a sacrament, so I’ll go to Confession before [the wedding], yes we’ll receive Communion.”
This “yes, yes, yes” from couples wanting to marry, the pope said, at times becomes a “Yes, for as long as love lasts. Then, the marriage is over.” This he said, is part of the culture of the provisional.
As he had done earlier in the week, the pope then spoke about the need for the Church to improve its marriage preparation process, which can’t be “just 3 or 4 sessions,” and said that if somebody is not properly prepared for the sacrament, “it’s better not to receive it.”
“I ask myself if this brave couple is free of their worldly, social, hedonistic culture?” he said. “Because the sacrament of marriage can only be done with freedom. If you’re not free, you don’t receive it.”
Through his talks, the pope also spoke about concepts he’s touched on before, such as parents not having time to play with their children, “the global problem of migration,” the importance of putting the elderly back into the center of society, “a global economy that kills,” the “apostleship of the ear,” meaning listening to those who need it, the exploitation of workers, and the fact that in countries waging war it’s easier to buy and sell guns than to fly in humanitarian aid.
Francis concluded his visit thanking those gathered and, asking them for their prayers, saying with a laugh, “This job is not easy!”