Pope Francis presided over the Liturgy of the Word, in St. Bartholomew’s Basilica on Rome’s Tiber Island, in memory of the “New Martyrs” of the 20th and 21st centuries, with Sant’Egidio Community on the afternoon of Saturday, April 22, 2017.
Here is a translation of the homily the Pope delivered in the course of the Liturgy, his words of gratitude addressed to refugees in the course of the meeting and his greeting to the faithful, gathered outside the Basilica.
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The Holy Father’s Homily
We have come as pilgrims to this Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island, where the ancient history of martyrdom is united to the memory of the new martyrs, of the many Christians killed by the crazy ideologies of the last century – and also of today – and killed only because they were disciples of Jesus.
The memory of these heroic ancient and recent witnesses confirms us in the awareness that the Church is Church if she is Church of martyrs. And the martyrs are those that, as the Book of Revelation reminded us, “have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:17). They had the grace to confess Jesus to the end, to death. They suffered, they gave their life, and we receive God’s blessing because of their witness. And there are also so many hidden martyrs, those men and women faithful to the meek strength of love, to the voice of the Holy Spirit, who in everyday life try to help brothers and to love God unconditionally.
If we look well, the cause of every persecution is hatred: hatred of the prince of this world for all those who have been saved and redeemed by Jesus with His Death and His Resurrection. In the passage of the Gospel that we heard (cf. John 15:12-19), Jesus uses a strong and frightening word: the word “hatred.” He, who is the Teacher of love, who liked to speak of love so much, speaks of hatred. But He always wanted to call things by their name. And He says to us: “Do not be afraid! The world will hate you, but know that it hated me before you.”
Jesus has chosen and rescued us, by the free gift of His love. With His Death and Resurrection He rescued us from the power of the world, from the power of the devil, from the power of the prince of this world. And the origin of hatred is this: because we are saved by Jesus, and the prince of the world does not want this; he hates us and stirs persecution, which since the times of Jesus and of the nascent Church continues to our days. How many Christian communities today are the object of persecution! Why? — because of the hatred of the spirit of the world.
How many times, in difficult moments of history, we have heard it said: “Today the homeland needs heroes.” A martyr can be thought of as a hero, but the fundamental thing about the martyr is that he was “graced”: It is the grace of God, not courage, which makes martyrs. Today, we can ask ourselves in the same way: What is the Church in need of today? “ Of martyrs, of witnesses, namely, of everyday Saints, because the Saints lead the Church forward – the Saints. The Church cannot go forward without them. The Church needs everyday Saints, those of ordinary life, led forward with coherence, but also of those who have the courage to accept the grace of being witnesses to the end, to death. All of them are the living blood of the Church. They are the witnesses that lead the Church forward; those that attest that the Lord is Risen, that Jesus is alive, and they attest to it with their coherence of life and with the strength of the Holy Spirit, which they have received as gift.
Today, I would like to add one more icon in this church – a woman, I don’t know her name, but she looks at us from Heaven. I was in Lesbos, greeting refugees and I met a thirty-year old man, with three children. He looked at me and said: “Father, I am Muslim. My wife was Christian. Terrorists came to our country, and they looked at us and asked us about our religious and they saw her with the crucifix, and they asked her to throw it on the ground. She didn’t and they decapitated her in front of me. We loved one another so much!” This is the icon that I bring here as a gift today. I don’t know if that man is still in Lesbos or has been able to go elsewhere. I don’t know if he was able to leave that concentration camp, because the refugee camps – so many – are concentration <camps>, because of the crowds of people left there. And the generous people that receive them must go on with this weight, because international agreements seem to be more important than human rights. And this man had no rancor: he, a Muslim, had this cross of grief that he carried forward without rancor. He took refuge in the love of his wife, graced with martyrdom.
It is a great gift to remember these witnesses of the faith and to pray in this place. It is a gift for Sant’Egidio Community, for the Church in Rome, for all the Christian communities of this city, and for so many pilgrims. The living legacy of the martyrs gives us peace and unity today. They teach us that, with the strength of love, with meekness, one can fight against arrogance, violence, war and bring about peace with patience. And so now we can pray thus: O Lord, make us worthy witnesses of the Gospel and of your love; shed your mercy upon humanity; renew your Church, protect persecuted Christians, grant peace soon to the whole world.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
Thanksgiving after the Meeting with Refugees:
A word of greeting, to thank you for all you have given us; thank you so much. May the Lord bless you.
Final Greeting in Front of the Basilica:
I thank you for your presence and prayer in this church of martyrs. We think of the cruelty, the cruelty that today rages above so many people; the exploitation of people . . .The people who arrive in barges and then stay there, in generous countries such as Italy and Greece, which receive them, but then international treaties do not allow . . . If Italy took two, two migrants per municipality, there would be a place for all. And may this generosity of the south, of Lampedusa, of Sicily, of Lesbos, infect the north a bit. It’s true: we are a civilization that doesn’t have children… we also close the door to migrants. This is called suicide. Let us pray!
[Blessing][Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]