03/23/2006, 00.00
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A Rosary for the martyrs

by Bernardo Cervellera

As it has done for the past 14 years, the Italian Catholic Church tomorrow celebrates a day of prayer and fasting in remembrance and solidarity with the martyrs who lost their lives for their faith.

Attitudes amongst Christians towards martyrdom have evolved thanks especially to the late Pope John Paul II. Until recently, "becoming a martyr" was seen as an exception in the normal course of a peaceful life; usually, an event thought to happen in some far-flung island or in some far-away country.

But, before the 2000 Jubilee, John Paul II made it clear that in every continent the Church is rooted in generations of martyrs and that the hatred by 20th century totalitarian ideologies was the most violent in the history of Christianity. Hence, thanks to the many canonisations, martyrs have become our "contemporaries".

As information technologies speed up communications more and more, events become more radically contemporary. Every day we learn about people killed for the faith in places under Marxist rule, Muslim countries, crime-ridden regions and in areas torn by inter-ethnic strife.

Everywhere the struggle between truth and lies, love and hatred, Christ and the world has become a daily occurrence. The list of those killed for their faith goes beyond priests, missionaries and nuns. Just by clicking on AsiaNews one can read about the Indonesian females students decapitated in Poso (Sulawesi); Javed Anjum, an ordinary young man in Pakistan who was beaten to death by those who tried to force him to convert to Islam; the tens of Christians who perished in violent anti-Christian riots in Nigeria because of the cartoons that mocked Muhammad.

And what can one say more about Laos, Myanmar, and China, where news about martyrs trickle out months after their death; martyrs like Mgr Gao Kexian, bishop of Yantai, who died of privations after six years in a prison camp. For months rumours about his death circulated until it was recently confirmed. Even though his death was not reported live, it was a current event.

By and large, martyrdom has become an everyday possibility for Christians. According to the World Christian Database, 160,000 Christian die martyrs each year, killed for the faith in settings as varied as the family and the workplace.

Speaking on the martyrdom of St Stephen last December 26, Pope Benedict XVI said: "How not to see that, even in our times and in various parts of the world, being Christian requires a martyr's heroism? How not to recognise that everywhere, even where there is no persecution, living the Gospel coherently carries a high price?" The Holy Father concluded saying "let us ask God to grant us the grace of living our faith coherently, always ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks us a reason for our hope (cf 1 Pt, 3: 15).

Celebrating the martyrdom of so many of our brothers and sisters is not some prideful and bloody orgy worthy a suicide bomber, but is the assertion that in this world there is hope that is stronger than death. It is that hope that embraces both martyr and killer.

An Italian community has been meeting in a church on a monthly basis for some time to pray a Rosary for the martyrs. At each decade the story of a martyr is briefly mentioned and a prayer is said for his/her country and people.

Following a suggestion by the members of this community, we ask all our readers to celebrate the "Rosary for the Martyrs", possibly every second Friday of the month. Ahead of the prayer, AsiaNews will put on its site some information useful for the celebration.

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Martyrs in Asia, the broken lives of Christ's witnesses


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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”