VATICAN CITY, OCT. 15, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II proposed to families the “intrepid testimony” in an era of “widespread paganism” of St. Benedict, martyred in the fourth century at age 28.
The Pope made this proposal in a message to Bishop Gervasio Gestori of the Diocese of St. Benedict of Tronto-Ripatransone-Montalto.
The occasion was the solemn celebration of the 17th centenary of the martyrdom, on Oct. 13, of Tronto’s patron. Cardinal Silvano Piovanelli, 80, was the papal envoy to the celebration.
“Christian history, from its origins, is rich in martyr saints, … persons often simple and humble who with courage were able to face a bloody death so as not to fail in their love for Christ,” the Holy Father said in his message.
“In this lies the value of martyrdom, which is not contempt for life, but a supreme and luminous act of love for Jesus, only Savior of humanity,” he stated.
Biographical data of the period suggest that Benedict might have been a soldier in the imperial army who converted to Christianity during his military service. According to tradition, he was martyred on the bridge of the Menocchia stream near the city of Cupra. It was Oct. 13, 304, when Diocletian was emperor.
After his martyrdom, local Christians buried the saint, building a hidden sepulcher, almost a catacomb, which could be accessed secretly. A plaque was placed on the martyr’s tomb that is still partly preserved.
After Constantine’s edict allowing Christianity, a small oratory was built on the saint’s tomb. Later, a parish was built in the nearby area, and eventually an abbey church. The edifice, reconstructed in 1698, included the saint’s tomb, so that his sepulcher was never moved from its original place.
In the abbey church of St. Benedict, located in the upper part of the city of St. Benedict of Tronto, is the plaque which local tradition affirms is part of the martyr’s sepulcher.
“The diligent custody” of Benedict’s relics “has contributed to maintain his memory alive in the Christian people, consolidating at the same time the faith of the generations that have succeeded one another there,” the Pope said in his message to the Tronto community.
“May the intrepid testimony of the patron saint, who in a context of widespread paganism was able to subordinate everything to the love of Christ, be a stimulus to families to understand increasingly their vocation and to form the new generations, often distracted by signs and incitements contrary to the Gospel, so that they will not lose the master way of Christian perfection,” the Holy Father said.
John Paul II invited young people in particular to look to St. Benedict and be inspired by his example in order to give themselves “to lofty and exacting ideals, capable of giving full meaning to their lives.”
“May young people not be afraid to make committed choices, overcoming the temptation to conformism, fascination with mere appearances, and the suggestion of promising but illusory freedoms,” he exhorted.
“Let them aim, on the contrary, at what really counts, and St. Benedict will not deprive his heavenly support to all those who courageously try to follow him on the path of the Christian ideal,” the Pope said.
The Holy Father also expressed the conviction that the anniversary of St. Benedict’s martyrdom will be an occasion for the local community “to renew awareness of its own Christian roots and witness the Gospel with increasing knowledge in the present historical moment.”