By Jesús Colina
ROME, APRIL 8, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The martyrs, particularly those of our days, are the eloquent voice of the Church that shows to the world how love and faith are stronger than death, says Benedict XVI.
The Pope affirmed this when he visited Rome’s Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Monday, which has a memorial to the witnesses of the faith from the 20th and 21st century.
The visit also marked the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Catholic lay Community of Sant’Egidio, to whom Pope John Paul II entrusted the memorial.
Among those remembered at the basilica — including Catholics and Christians of other confessions — are Father Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, a Mexican priest assassinated in 1993 and Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero of San Salvador, shot as he was celebrating Mass in 1980.
The memorial also commemorates Franz Jägerstätter, a young Austrian husband and father, decapitated in 1943 for his opposition to the Nazis; Father André Jarlan, a Chilean priest killed in a neighborhood of Santiago where he worked with the poor; and the martyrs of the religious persecution in Spain during the 1930s.
The church also houses the relics of the Apostle Bartholomew and the remains of St. Adalberto.
“Why didn’t these brother martyrs try to save at all costs the irreplaceable good of life? Why did they continue to serve the Church despite threats and intimidations?” the Pope asked.
“These brothers and sisters in the faith are a type of grand image of Christian humanity in the 20th century, an image of the Beatitudes, lived to the point of shedding blood,” he affirmed, citing Pope John Paul II who said that “the witness of Christ to the point of shedding blood speaks with a voice that is stronger than the divisions of the past.”
“It is true,” Benedict XVI continued, “that apparently it seems violence, totalitarianisms, persecution and blind brutality show themselves to be stronger, silencing the voice of the witnesses of the faith, who can seem humanly as failures in history.”
“But the risen Jesus enlightens their testimony and we can thus understand the meaning of martyrdom,” the Holy Father affirmed, referring to the words of Tertullian, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians.”
Unarmed and victorious
The Pontiff added: “In failure, in the humiliation of so many who suffer for the cause of the Gospel, a force is acting that the world does not recognize. It is the force of love, unarmed and victorious, even in apparent defeat. It is the force that challenges and overcomes death.
“Also this 21st century has begun under the sign of martyrdom. Fraternal coexistence, love, faith, options in favor of the littlest and poorest, which characterize the existence of the Christian community, sometimes incite a violent loathing.”
“In contemplating these heroes of the faith,” Benedict XVI encouraged, “imitate [their] courage and perseverance at the service of the Gospel, especially among the poor.”
“Be builders of peace and reconciliation among those who are opposed. Nourish your faith with listening to and meditating on the word of God, with daily prayer, with active participation in holy Mass,” he said, directing himself to the members of the Sant’Egidio Community.
On behalf of those present, the founder of the community, Andrea Riccardi, greeted the Pope. He said that these martyrs, “have not lived for themselves,” and have become a “scandal for the world of the 20th century, which has adopted as a supreme law the ‘save yourself’ shouted to Jesus on the cross.”
“That is how the world of our century continues to be,” he added. “And unfortunately, many Christians continue being assassinated in different parts of the world.”