Dying for faith
Catholics around the world continue to give their lives because of their work for Christ
By Tony Staley
Many Catholics may believe Christian martyrdom ended in 313 when the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan recognizing Christianity as a lawful religion in the Roman Empire.
Sadly, the persecution of Christians around the world has continued over the centuries.
Some 33 Catholics were martyred in 2001, reports Fides International, a Vatican news agency. Some may question Fides' broad definition of martyrdom -- for example, Fr. Pietro De Franceschi drowned in floods in Mozambique while saving a woman, and some on the list were killed during robberies.
But, Fides notes, even those who died during a robbery were targeted because it was known that as Christian missionaries they had no weapons and would offer no resistance.
In addition to the 33 priests, nuns, seminarians and lay people on the list, hundreds of other Christians were killed in various countries around the world because of their beliefs. Indeed, Fides notes, its list is only representative and never includes everyone who was martyred.
As Fides says, those on its martyr list were on "mission to preach the Gospel, to build communities, to care for young people, to defend human rights. Their gesture of love would appear to be cut short."
Fides also notes that, "unlike that of a journalist, a head of state or a terrorist, the murder of these martyrs causes no outcry. But they are like the humus of the earth: lying unnoticed they fertilize the field for new sowing and new harvests. Their determination to live and to die for love of Jesus among the plagues of our planet, is a source of hope for 2002. These martyrs are the proof that love is possible and that the earth belongs to Christ, not to violence and terror."
Keep these martyrs in your prayers, along with all missionaries who witness to the love of Christ in countries around the world. Nor should we forget the people they work among -- some of whom also die for the faith.
And, as difficult as it may be, we also should pray for their killers. Indeed, the early Christians knew that Jesus had warned them of such a fate (Mt 24:9). Thus, they considered torture and martyrdom to be proofs that they were following in the footsteps of Christ (Acts 5:40-42, 7:57-60).
Jesus himself commanded us to love our enemies and those who maltreat us and cautioned that we receive no credit in loving and being nice to those who treat us likewise (Lk 6:27-38). We can be reasonably sure that these martyrs forgave their persecutors, as Jesus did before them (Lk 23:34).