Martyrdom: A Credible Testimony for the Church in Africa

Address by Father Graham Rose

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 11, 2004 ( Here is the address of Father Graham Rose, theologian of the Diocese of Johannesburg, delivered during the recent worldwide videoconference on «Martyrdom and the New Martyrs,» organized by the Congregation for Clergy.

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Martyrdom: A Credible Testimony for the Church in Africa
Father Graham Rose, Johannesburg

In the 1960s, on the occasion of the canonization of the Uganda martyrs, Pope Paul VI recalled the «wonderful stories of ancient Africa» all part of that «list of victorious men and women who gave their lives for the faith.»

Indeed, such African stories must never be forgotten. However, in addressing the topic «Martyrdom: A Credible Testimony for the Church in Africa,» I suggest the focus shift from the ancient to the contemporary. What sort of martyrdom will be credible today?

Put simply, the credibility of the martyr, for all times and places, has been that he practiced what he preached — even unto death. This is appreciated in a special way in Africa — Africans relate to a practical witness that goes beyond words and philosophies.

I suggest there are three ways in particular in which this lived testimony will be credible to the people of Africa.

1. In Uganda the issue for the martyrs was one of chastity; elsewhere in Africa Christians have died as they sought to expose corruption and greed in the fight against poverty; many have died more famously in the struggle against political tyrannies — their obedience was to God not men!

This struggle for the Truth about the human being has brought with it its martyrs. It is in this singular focus on the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience that the martyrs’ testimony will be most credible.

2. Our Catholic truth founds and fulfills the fundamental unity of all human beings. In Africa we know too many stories of Christians — in South Africa and Rwanda, for example — who when challenged, chose to put race or tribe before their inclusive Catholic Christianity.

Yet how many stories are out there — still to be told — of little-known individuals who did in fact remain faithful? Martyrdom in Africa will bear credible testimony when it has that particular courage which enables it to rise above the racial and tribal divides that terrorize this continent.

3. In canonizing the Ugandan martyrs Pope Paul said: «Nor should we forget those others, of the Anglican Communion, who died for the sake of Christ.»

Again, the martyr’s testimony will be all the more credible when it bears witness also to the unity of Christians. This is particularly so in an Africa which has always been a bit bewildered by the disunity of Christians.

I have named only the Ugandan martyrs — of course there are others. Pope Paul recalled the ancient stories from the Mediterranean north. We know well there are always more saints and martyrs than have been canonized.

This is especially true in most of Africa where the «infrastructure» so to speak, required for the process of canonization is so underdeveloped. We acknowledge these anonymous martyrs of Africa. How many stories will remain untold until — as we read in Revelation — the Lamb breaks open the fifth seal?

Their stories are emerging from places where human dignity is atrociously threatened, where human community is simply absent or so very fragile. There, the testimony of those who have died to proclaim the Gospel truth about human beings and their unity in Christ has been and is even now, so very crucial — and credible.

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