- Mar 4, 2021
Attacked because of their faith, killed in a robbery, murdered in a general climate of violence or struck down by someone with obvious mental difficulties, the 20 missionaries who died violent deaths in 2020 were witnesses of the Gospel, said Fides, the Vatican’s missionary news agency.
On Sunday in Romania, Pope Francis beatified seven bishops of the Eastern rite church who refused to abandon their faith under the communist dictatorship, which wasn’t overthrown until 1989.
Jesus warned his disciples of the hostility they would encounter being a witness to the Gospel, and that is still true today as Christians are persecuted everywhere, Pope Francis said during his weekly general audience. The example of the martyrs, who showed strength and hope in the face of hostility, can inspire Christians facing violence or hostility.
“The value of witnessing cuts across generations,” Jesuit Father Tim Ofracio said. He was speaking both about the cause for martyrdom for Jesuit Father Francesco Palliola as well as Father Teresito Soganub and other Catholics kidnapped recently by militants. “These are values that raise the dignity of the human person.” He said there is a demand for a “new kind of martyrdom” today, “like dying to yourself and living for others.”
Thousands of people from all over the world are trekking for miles on a pilgrimage to the Uganda Martyrs Basilica and Shrine in Namugongo to honor the memory of 22 Catholic saints who lost their lives because of their faith from 1885 to 1887.
Is the juxtaposition of “the new martyrs” vs. “the old martyrs” in the Church really fair? It suggests that while martyrs used to be killed for hatred of the faith, they now die for “odium amoris” and other formulations of the canon law requirements for martyrdom. It may simply be that the “New Martyrs” seem “new” to us because of the novelty that their martyrdoms happened in the cultural context of our modern times.
We are living in a time of “New Martyrs” where thousands of men and women suffer persecution around the globe because of their Christian faith. Pope Francis’s visit to the Basilica of St. Bartholomew puts a spotlight on the church’s vast collection of relics and memento’s belonging to the martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries.