03/21/2008, 00.00
DAY OF THE MARTYRS
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The Easter of the Martyrs

by Bernardo Cervellera
This year, the day in memory of missionary martyrs coincides with Easter Monday. In the splendour of the paschal mystery we remember the necessity of sacrifice, the sacrifice of Christ and that of his followers, a sign that truth and love have not abandoned earth.
Rome (AsiaNews) - Each year, the Italian Church, and above all the Youth Missionary Movement and the Pontifical Missionary Works, dedicate a day to commemoration and prayer on behalf of missionary martyrs. The event is celebrated everywhere with vigils of prayer and fasting, Eucharistic adoration, and the collection of donations for situations where the Church is persecuted.
 
The date for the annual appointment is March 24, the anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Arnulfo Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, killed in 1980 while he was celebrating Mass. This year, the date coincides with the celebration of Easter: March 24 is, in fact, Easter Monday.
 
This coincidence seems significant to me.
 
Above all because in the full bloom of Easter splendour, it recalls the necessity of sacrifice, of Christ first and then of his followers. In a world that dreams that everything should be easy, without difficulties, the Cross of Christ and that of the martyrs is instead the "necessary" price (Luke 24:26) so that the light of Easter may shine forth. And on the other hand, in a world - and a Church - where there is a strong temptation of "getting along", of relativising, of not muddying the waters, of a cloying niceness, the sacrifice of the martyrs reminds us that the Wisdom of the Cross ultimately comes to blows with the wisdom of the world. For this reason, as much as dialogue, inculturation, friendship, and service are able to achieve, martyrdom - even its bloodiest form - remains one of the essential features of the Christian proclamation.
 
Benedict XVI continues to emphasise the importance of proclamation and martyrdom for the Church and the world of today. It is enough here to recall the gratitude that he expressed to the martyrs of the Church in China, in his letter to the Chinese faithful (no. 2), or in his encyclical Spe Salvi (no. 37), when he cites the Vietnamese martyr Paul Le-Bao-Thin, speaking of suffering as a pathway to hope.
 
This is the other value of the concurrence of the Day of the Martyrs and Easter. On the Monday after resurrection Sunday, it is a bit difficult to fast and be sad. This year, the young people will have to give more emphasis to joy, to the joy that is present in martyrdom. Because the gift of one's own life, lived as grateful love of Jesus Christ, is a promise of good fruits for the world. The martyr's sacrifice provides a sign that truth and love, and Christ himself, have not abandoned the earth, but live and shine even in the abyss of evil. 
 
For all of these reasons, we have decided to give an Easter gift to our readers: a list of all the Christian martyrs killed in 2007. It is an ecumenical list, including not only Catholic martyrs, but also those of other Christian confessions. It is worth remembering that ecumenism and the struggle toward unity among the Churches was born and is nourished precisely by the fact that they share the same fate, as history has shown and still shows in many countries (Russia, China, Vietnam, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran . . .) It is also a list that extends beyond the continent of Asia, to embrace the entire world. But Asia occupies a pre-eminent position: the countries where the greatest number of killings of Christians took place in 2007 are Iraq, with 47 killed, and India, with 18. With this, the perception is reinforced that Asia is "the continent of martyrs". But it is precisely for this reason - as we always say - that Asia should be the focus of evangelisation in the third millennium.
 
Remembering the martyrs means remembering that the hope of the resurrection is near. In our institute, the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), there is a tradition that when news comes of the martyrdom of one of our members, the community gathers in Church to sing the Magnificat: the Lord performs "great works" by uniting to the fecundity of his Cross and resurrection the gift of one of our own lives.
 
The list is long, yet incomplete: it contains only the names of known persons whose death has been confirmed by at least two sources. It can be used like a long litany, asking these martyrs to obtain from the Lord of history his abundant mercy for the world, and above all for the persecutors. Happy Easter.
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