Pope Francis' intention for the month of March Photo: The Pope Video

Today’s martyrs: the intention for which the Pope asks us to pray this March

(ZENIT News / Roma, 02.27.2024).- Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, many believers have been persecuted and assassinated for their faith. Looking at this reality, the Pope insists that their witness “is a blessing for everyone” and requests prayers particularly for […]

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(ZENIT News / Roma, 02.27.2024).- Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, many believers have been persecuted and assassinated for their faith. Looking at this reality, the Pope insists that their witness “is a blessing for everyone” and requests prayers particularly for them in The Pope Video for March which is released through the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network.

Stories of courage and witnesses of love

The lives of those people who offer themselves as witnesses to Christ are, above all, true stories with characteristics that make them unique in themselves. In his video message, made this month with the support Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a Catholic international charitable organization recognized as a Papal Foundation, whose mission is to help the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in need through information, prayer and action, Pope Francis recalls the witness and pain of a husband whom he met on the Greek island of Lesbos: “They approached my wife with a crucifix and told her to throw it on the ground. She didn’t do it, and they slit her throat in front of me.”

It is precisely the story of this woman that The Pope Video constructs for the month of March. She left an “example of love” for Christ and Fidelity “until death”. Her story alternates with other images of Christian communities on pilgrimage and cites examples of courage, such as that of the first Servant of God from Pakistan – Akash Bashir – who died almost 20 years ago in 2015 to prevent a terrorist attack on a Church in Lahore filled with members of the faithful.

The martyrs, heroes of all times

There are many hidden martyrs, heroes of our world today, who lead ordinary lives with integrity, and who courageously accept the grace of being witnesses to the end, even unto death itself. The Pope insists: “Brothers, sisters, there will always be martyrs among us. This is a sign that we’re on the right path.” The fact that there are martyrs means there are people who have risked their lives to follow Jesus, to live according to his message and incarnate his Gospel of love, peace and fraternity in the world. They have neither denied nor forgotten Him, but have remained firm in their faith, thus demonstrating their fidelity to Jesus Christ. This is how they indicate the right path for the Church.

“A person who knows told me there are more martyrs today than at the beginning of Christianity,” Pope Francis adds, emphasizing how the issue of persecuted Christians and those who give their life for the faith is highly relevant today. In 2023 alone, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) received reports in 40 countries of people who were assassinated or sequestered because of the faith. Nigeria has become the country with the highest number of assassinations; in Pakistan, in the diocese of Faisalabad, the churches and homes of the Christians in Jaranwala were attacked; and in Burkina Faso, Catholics in Débé were expelled from their village solely because of their faith – just to mention a few examples.

Taking this scenario into consideration, the Executive President of the Pontifical Foundation, Regina Lynch, notes: “Religious freedom, recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is an inalienable right. No Christian should have to lose their life to exercise it. Guaranteeing the right to practice the faith is crucial, as a component of the dignity of every human being.” In this sense, she affirms that Pope Francis’ intention for this month is “very important in order to encourage prayer for the victims of persecution, as well as advocacy for those who suffer discrimination for their faith. In addition, we must involve politicians so that they defend the rights of the most vulnerable.”

The courage to witness with one’s own life

Father Frédéric Fornos S.J., International Director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, recalls what Saint Francis of Assisi said one day to his brothers “Always proclaim the Gospel. If necessary, use words.” And he adds: “We are called to bear witness to Christ with our entire life. A martyr is a witness to Christ, whose very existence is a living witness, that is, the person incarnates the Gospel putting their own life at risk without resorting to violence. The Pope’s prayer intention challenges us: How can we bear witness to Christ right where we are? Not everyone is called to risk their lives to remain faithful to Jesus Christ. But each of us can ask ourselves, “When I face situations at work, among my activities, my social network, or in my family, that are contrary to Christian ethics or the Gospel, do I take a stand to follow in Christ’s steps regardless of the difficulties or challenges that might arise? Or do I evade it? Therefore, let us pray with the Pope, that all those in various parts of the world who risk their lives for the Gospel might imbue the Church with their courage and missionary drive.”

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