Jesus was crucified, and it was not long after his death and resurrection that the early Church witnessed the death of its first martyr, Saint Stephen. The word “martyr” means “witness”. A Christian martyr is someone who willingly suffers death rather than renounce his or her religion. Throughout our Church’s history, up to this very day, Christians have suffered persecution, and even death, for our faith in Jesus Christ. All you need to do is look at our sanctuary mural here at Annunciation Parish. The majority of the saints depicted in our mural died as martyrs. For example, of the Apostles, only Saint John died a natural death.
“Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude. ‘Let me become the food of the beasts, through whom it will be given me to reach God.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2473)
In many parts of the world today, religious persecution is rampant. As Christians, it is imperative that we remain aware of what is happening, that we pray for those being persecuted, and that we take action in protecting religious liberty. In doing so, we are uniting ourselves with Jesus Christ, with our Church leadership, and our fellow Christians throughout the world.
Jesus, himself, preached about persecution. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, in what we now refer to as the Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
Religious persecution is a reality which Pope Francis addresses on a regular basis, imploring us to pray and take action, rather than to remain silent and uninformed in the light of such injustice. “I cannot fail to recall the many instances of injustice and persecution which daily afflict religious minorities, and Christians in particular, in various parts of our world. Communities and individuals today find themselves subjected to barbaric acts of violence: they are evicted from their homes and native lands, sold as slaves, killed, beheaded, crucified or burned alive, under the shameful and complicit silence of so many.” (Pope Francis, Nov. 25, 2014) Pope Francis often preaches on religious persecution in his homily at daily Mass. Here are two examples, which you can click to read, “Martyrdom is not just a thing of the past
,” and “Martyred with white gloves
On August 16, 2014, Pope Francis beatified 124 Korean martyrs, and during this celebration, as he reflected on martyrdom, he raised the question, “What are we willing to die for?” (See the video clip below)