Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Christian martyrdom – still current today – is “is exclusively an act of love towards God and all mankind including persecutors”: this was how Benedict XVI introduced today’s Angelus prayer on the feast of St Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. Speaking to the thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter’s square, the pontiff recalled that “the deep bond which unites Christ to the first martyr Stephen, is divine Charity: the same love which pushed the Son of God to strip himself and be obedient onto death on the cross (cfr Fil 2,6-8), also pushed the Apostles and martyrs to give their lives for the Gospel”.
A sign of this “love” are prayers offered up for “enemies” and “persecutors”, by the many “sons and daughters of the church down through the centuries”. This sets Christian martyrs apart from those who are victims of self-held ideals.
Benedict XVI then underlined how martyrdom has always accompanied the profession of the faith and still today remains deeply actual: “still today – he said – we receive news from across the world of missionaries, priests, bishops, religious brothers and sisters, and lay faithful who are persecuted, tortured, imprisoned and denied their freedom or stopped from professing their faith because they are disciples of Christ or apostles of the Gospel: often some suffer and even die because of their communion with the universal Church and their loyalty to the Pope”.
The pope did not mention specific places or situations, but held up for examination, the “map of martyrdom” can be traced from nations in Latin America to Africa and Asia, in particular Islamic nations (“persecuted, tortured, imprisoned …”) and China (“some suffer and even die because of their communion with the universal Church and their loyalty to the Pope”). India can be added to the list, from where news reaches us today of Christians killed and churches burned.
Quoting from his recent encyclica Spe salvi (n. 37), he recalled how the experience of the Vietnamese martyr Paolo Le-Bao-Thin (who died in 1857), in which “sufferance was transformed into joy through the power of hope with faith provides”.
“The Christian martyr”, underlined Benedict XVI, “like Christ and through his intimate union with Him, accepts the cross, and through it transforms death into an act of love. That which on the outside is brutal violence, on the inside becomes an act of love and total giving. Thus violence is transformed into love and death into life’ (Homily at Marienfeld - Cologne, 20 August 2005). The Christian martyr realises the victory of love over hate and death”.
“Let us pray – concluded the pope – for all those who suffer because of their loyalty to Christ and his Church. Blessed Mary, Queen of Martyrs, help us to be credible witnesses of the Gospel, answering our enemies with the disarming power of truth and charity”.