BARI, Italy, MAY 29, 2005 (Zenit.org).- In an age of widespread religious indifference, Benedict XVI offers as models the martyrs of North Africa who gave their lives for celebrating Mass on a Sunday.
Presiding at today’s closing Mass of the 24th Italian National Eucharistic Congress, the Pope spoke in his homily about the group of Christians who were killed in 304 during the persecution of the Roman emperor Diocletian.
The theme of the congress was the motto of the martyrs: “We Cannot Live without Sunday.”
The emperor, recounted Benedict XVI, had prohibited Christians, “under pain of death, to possess the Scriptures, to meet on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist and to build premises for their assemblies.”
In Abitene, a small village in what today is Tunis, “49 Christians, meeting in the home of Octavius Felix, were taken by surprise on a Sunday while celebrating the Eucharist, defying the imperial prohibitions. Arrested, they were taken to Carthage to be interrogated by the proconsul Anulinus,” said the Holy Father.
“Significant, in particular, was the response given to the proconsul by Emeritus, after being asked why he had violated the emperor’s order,” he recalled.
“He said: ‘We cannot live without meeting on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. We would not have the strength to face the daily difficulties and not succumb,'” the Pope said. “After atrocious tortures, the 49 martyrs of Abitene were killed.
“Thus they confirmed their faith with the shedding of blood. They died but they were victorious: We now remember them in the glory of the risen Christ.”
The Pontiff called Christians of the 21st century to reflect on this experience, because “it is not easy for us either to live as Christians” in a world “characterized by rampant consumerism, religious indifference, and secularism closed to transcendence.”