Rome (AsiaNews) – “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of new Christians,” are the famous words by Tertullian which Benedict XVI repeated today in order to celebrate the Word in Memory of the Witnesses of the Faith in the 20th and 21st centuries.
“In the defeat and humiliation of those who suffer because of the Gospel there is strength that the world does not know,” he said. “It is the strength of love, helpless and victorious even over the apparent defeat. It is the strength that defies and defeats death.”
In Rome’s San Bartolomeo all'Isola Basilica on Tiber Island, which John Paul II dedicated to the memory of the martyrs of the 20th century, the Pope reflected upon “those willing to sacrifice their life for the Kingdom.” For him ‘this way we become friends of Christ; we conform to Him, accepting the extreme sacrifice, without limitations to giving love in the service of the faith.”
“Stopping at the six altars devoted to Christians who fell under the totalitarian violence of Communism, Nazism, killed in the Americas, Asia and Oceania, in Spain and Mexico, and in Africa, we ideally retrace the painful events of the past century. So many died as they fulfilled the Church’s evangelising mission. Their blood is mixed with that of indigenous Christians to whom the faith was communicated. Others, often living in a minority situation, were killed out of hatred for the faith. Lastly quite a few immolated themselves so as not abandon the needy, the poor, the faithful in their charge, fearing no danger. So many, they are!”
“Even the 21st century began in the sign of martyrdom. When Christians are yeast, light and salt of the earth, they too become the object of persecution as did Jesus. Like Him they are ‘signs of contradiction’. Fraternal co-existence, love, faith and choosing the weak and the poor, which marks the existence of the Christian community, often rouse violent loathing. How useful it is to look at the bright witness of those who came before us in the sign of a heroic faithfulness that can lead to martyrdom!”
Today’s celebration is to honour the 40th anniversary of the Sant’Egidio community to whom John Paul II entrusted the basilica on Tiber Island. All of the community’s leaders, including its founder, Andrea Riccardi, were present.
“The Word of God, love for the Church, preference for the poor, communicating the Gospel are the stars that guided you, witnessing under different skies the one and only message of Christ. I thank you for your apostolic work; I thank your for caring for those who come last and for searching peace, which sets your community apart.”
“Be builders of peace and reconciliation among those who are enemies or fight each other.”