BARI, Italy, MAY 10, 2005 (Zenit.org).- On his first trip outside the province of Rome, Benedict XVI will make known to the world the message left by the martyrs of Abitene: “We cannot live without Sunday.”
The martyrs’ message is the theme of the 24th Italian National Eucharistic Congress, to be held in Bari May 21-29. The Pope will preside at the closing Mass, confirmed the Vatican.
Martyred in 303, the Christians lived in Abitene, a city of the Roman province called “Africa Proconsularis,” today’s Tunis. They were victims of Emperor Diocletian’s persecution, initiated after years of relative calm.
The emperor ordered that “the sacred texts and holy testaments of the Lord and the divine Scriptures be found, so that they could be burnt; the Lord’s basilicas were to be pulled down; and the celebration of sacred rites and holy reunions of the Lord were to be prohibited” (Acts of the Martyrs, I), explained the organizers of the eucharistic congress.
Disobeying the emperor’s orders, a group of 49 Christians of Abitene (among them Senator Dativus, the priest Saturninus, the virgin Victoria, and the reader Emeritus) gathered weekly in one of their homes to celebrate Sunday Mass.
Taken by surprise during one of the meetings in Ottavio Felice’s home, they were arrested and taken to Carthage to Proconsul Anulinus to be interrogated.
When the Proconsul asked them if they kept the Scriptures in their homes, the martyrs answered courageously that “they kept them in their hearts,” revealing that they did not wish to separate faith from life.
“I implore you, Christ, hear me,” “I thank you, O God,” “I implore you, Christ, have mercy” were exclamations uttered by the martyrs during their torment. Along with their prayers they offered their lives and asked that their executioners be forgiven.
Among the testimonies, is that of Emeritus, who affirmed fearlessly that he received Christians for the celebration. The Proconsul asked him: “Why have you received Christians in your home, transgressing the imperial dispositions?”
“Sine dominico non possumus” (“We cannot live without Sunday”), answered Emeritus.
“The term ‘dominicum’ has a triple meaning. It indicates the Lord’s day, but also refers to what constitutes its content — his resurrection and presence in the eucharistic event,” explained the congress’ organizers.
The motive of martyrdom “must not be sought in the sole observance of a ‘precept,'” as “in that period the Church had not yet established in a formal way the Sunday precept,” noted Monsignor Vito Angiuli, pro-vicar of the Archdiocese of Bari-Bitonto, in last Sunday’s edition of the Vatican daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
“Deep down was the conviction that Sunday Mass is a constitutive element of one’s Christian identity and that there is no Christian life without Sunday and without the Eucharist,” he stressed.
This is clearly appreciated, he said, in the “commentary that the writer of the Acts of the Martyrs made to the question posed by the Proconsul to martyr Felice: ‘I am not asking you if you are a Christian, but if you have taken part in the assembly or if you have a book of the Scriptures,” he stressed.
“O foolish and ridiculous question of the judge!” states the commentary of the acts. “As if a Christian could be without the Sunday Eucharist, or the Sunday Eucharist could be celebrated without there being a Christian! Don’t you know, Satan, that it is the Sunday Eucharist which makes the Christian and the Christian that makes the Sunday Eucharist, so that one cannot subsist without the other, and vice versa?”
“When you hear someone say ‘Christian,’ know that there is an assembly that celebrates the Lord; and when you hear someone say ‘assembly,’ know that a Christian is there,” concludes the quotation.