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VATICAN CITY — Persecuted Christians were a central focus of Pope Francis’ preaching during Holy Week and Easter this year. Official statements came from the Vatican no less than 7 times — the biblical number of perfection or completion.
References began with Pope Francis on Palm Sunday describing these “martyrs of our own time” as “a cloud of witnesses”.
The theme was later taken up by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Preacher of the Papal Household, who on Good Friday declared that “our institutions in the West risk being Pilates who wash our hands” if they remain indifferent to the killing of Christians by Islamic jihadists.
Francis would then return to the subject on Easter Monday (the second day of the Easter Octave), urging the international community not to stand by “mute and motionless” as believers, especially in Africa and the Middle East, are “persecuted, exiled, killed, and beheaded only for being Christians.”
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians,” the North African second century theologian Tertullian triumphantly and paradoxically wrote in closing his Apology, the famous work in which he defends Christianity and demands legal toleration of Christians in the Roman Empire.
Yet as the world sees Boko Haram pledge allegiance to ISIS, and voices increasingly warn of a global link among jihadists, Pope Francis is urging the international community not to play the role of Pontius Pilate on the world stage and wash its hands in “complicit silence” as Christ’s mystical body is crucified.
Here below we publish the 7 references to persecuted Christians issued by the Vatican since Palm Sunday.
1. Pope Francis — Homily at Holy Mass on Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015
We think too of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted because they are Christians, the martyrs of our own time – and there are many. They refuse to deny Jesus and they endure insult and injury with dignity. They follow him on his way. In truth, we can speak of a “cloud of witnesses” – the martyrs of our own time (cf. Heb 12:1).
2. Telegram sent by the Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, on behalf of Pope Francis to His Eminence Cardinal John Niue, President of the Kenyan Conference of Catholic Bishops in Nairobi on Good Friday, April 3, 2015
Deeply saddened by the immense and tragic loss of life caused by the recent attack on the Garissa University College, the Holy Father sends assurances of his prayers and spiritual closeness to the families of the victims and to all Kenyans at this painful time. He commends the souls of the deceased to the infinite mercy of Almighty God, and he prays that all who mourn them will be comforted in their loss. In union with all people of good will throughout the world, His Holiness condemns this act of senseless brutality and prays for a change of heart among its perpetrators. He calls upon all those in authority to redouble their efforts to work with all men and women in Kenya to bring an end to such violence and to hasten the dawn of a new era of brotherhood, justice and peace.
3. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM (Preacher to the Papal Household) —Homily at the Celebration of Lord’s Passion in St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday, April 3, 2015
Christians are of course not the only victims of homicidal violence in the world, but we cannot ignore the fact that in many countries they are the most frequently intended victims. The last news was yesterday: 147 Christians killed by the Islamic jihadists from Somalia, in a university campus in Kenya. Those who are concerned about the good reputation of their religion cannot remain indifferent in front of all that. Jesus said to his disciples one day, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (Jn 16:2). Perhaps never before have these words found such precise fulfillment as they do today.
There was someone who, in the secular press, had the courage to denounce the disturbing indifference of world institutions and public opinion in the face of all this killing of Christians, recalling what such indifference has sometimes brought about in the past. All of us and all our institutions in the West risk being Pilates who wash our hands.
True martyrs for Christ do not die with clenched fists but with their hands joined in prayer. We have had many recent examples of this. Christ is the one who gave the twenty-one Coptic Christians beheaded in Libya by ISIS this past February 22 the strength to die whispering the name of Jesus.
4. Second Station of the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) at Rome’s Colosseum on Good Friday, April 3, 2015
"Jesus Takes Up His Cross"
You, Jesus, were “numbered with the transgressors”. Among the first generation of Christians, simply because they spoke openly of you, Peter and John, Paul and Silas were cast into prison.This has happened repeatedly throughout history.
In our day too, men and women are imprisoned, condemned and even slaughtered for the simple reason that they are believers or engaged in promoting justice and peace. They are not ashamed of your cross. For us they are wonderful examples to imitate.
Let us pray in the words of a martyr, Shahbaz Bhatti:
On the morning of 2 March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities, was killed by a group of armed men. In his spiritual testament he had written:
I remember a Good Friday when I was only thirteen years old. I heard a sermon on the sacrifice of Jesus for our redemption and for the salvation of the world. And I thought of responding to that love by showing love for our brothers and sisters, placing myself at the service of Christians, especially the poor, the needy and the persecuted who live in this Islamic country.
I want my life, my character and my actions to speak for me, and to say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. This is so strong a desire in me that I would consider it a privilege if Jesus should wish to accept the sacrifice of my life.
5. Pope Francis — closing remarks at the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) at Rome’s Colosseum on Good Friday, April 3, 2015
“In your innocence, immaculate Lamb, we see our guilt. In your buffeted, spat upon and disfigured face, we see all the brutality of our sins. In the cruelty of your Passion, we see the cruelty of our hearts and actions…. In your body stripped of flesh, ripped open and torn apart, we see the bodies of our brothers abandoned along the roads, disfigured by our negligence and indifference. In your thirst, Lord, we see the thirst of Your merciful Father who wanted to embrace, forgive and save all mankind. In You, divine love, we still see today our brothers and sisters who are persecuted, beheaded and crucified for their faith in You, right before our eyes and often with our complicit silence.”
6. Pope Francis — Message Urbi et Orbi, from the Loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica on Easter Sunday April 5, 2015
We ask Jesus, the Victor over death, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for his name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence. There are so many of them!
We ask for peace, above all, for beloved Syria and Iraq, that the roar of arms may cease and that peaceful relations may be restored among the various groups which make up those beloved countries. May the international community not stand by before the immense humanitarian tragedy unfolding in these countries and the drama of the numerous refugees.
We implore peace for Libya, that the present absurd bloodshed and all barbarous acts of violence may cease, and that all concerned for the future of the country may work to favor reconciliation and to build a fraternal society respectful of the dignity of the person. For Yemen too we express our hope for the growth of a common desire for peace, for the good of the entire people.
We ask the risen Lord for the gift of peace for Nigeria, South Sudan and for the various areas of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. May constant prayer rise up from all people of goodwill for those who lost their lives –— for those killed last Thursday at Garissa University College in Kenya —, for all who have been kidnapped, and for those forced to abandon their homes and their dear ones.
7. Pope Francis – Following the Regina Caeli in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Monday, April 6 2015
“Everyone must continue the spiritual journey of intense prayer, concrete participation and tangible help in defense and protection of our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted, exiled, killed, and beheaded only for being Christians. They are the martyrs of our own time, and there are many. We can say that there are more [today] than in the first centuries. I hope that the international community does not stand by mute and motionless in the face of this unacceptable crime, which is a worrying departure from the basic human rights. I sincerely hope that the international community does not turn its face away.”
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.