Pope Francis has paid tribute to modern day martyrs whom he said “are the living blood of the Church”. The Pope was presiding over a Liturgy of the Word at the Church of St. Bartholomew on the Tiber, a shrine to the martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Speaking during his homily, the Pope had words of closeness for the many Christian communities being persecuted today “because of the hatred of the spirit of this world”.
“How often, he said, in difficult moments of history, have we heard it said: ‘Today our country needs heroes’? Likewise, we can ask, ‘Today what does our Church need?’ Martyrs, witnesses, that is, everyday saints of ordinary life, lives lived coherently; but we also need those who have the courage to accept the grace to be witnesses until the end, until death”.
He said that martyrs are “the witnesses who carry forward the Church; those who witness to the fact that Jesus is risen, that Jesus is alive, who witness to Him with coherent lives and with the strength of the Holy Spirit they have received as a gift”.
And, speaking off-the-cuff the Pope turned his attention to refugees who have been forced to flee their homelands because of their faith and said that many, today, find themselves in refugee camps, many of which he said, are like concentration camps, while international agreements seem to be more important than human rights.
Pope Francis said, “We have come as pilgrims to this Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Tiber Island, where the ancient history of martyrdom joins the memory of the new martyrs, of many Christians killed by the insane ideologies of the last century, and killed only because they were disciples of Jesus.
“The memory of these heroic, old and recent witnesses confirms us in the awareness that the Church is a Church of martyrs. And martyrs are those who, as the Book of Revelation reminds us, “Are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They had the grace to confess Jesus until the end, until death. They suffered, they gave their lives, and we receive the blessing of God for their witness. And there are also many hidden martyrs, those men and women who are faithful to the gentle strength of love, to the voice of the Holy Spirit, those who in their daily lives seek to help their brothers and sisters and to love God without reserve.
“If we look hard, we can see that the cause of every persecution is the hatred of the prince of this world toward those who have been saved and redeemed by Jesus through His death and resurrection. In the Gospel we just heard (cf. Jn 15: 12-19), Jesus uses a strong and frightening word: the word “hatred”. He, who is the master of love, who so enjoyed talking about love, speaks of hatred. But he always liked to call things by their name. And he tells us, “Do not be afraid! The world will hate you; but know that before it hated you, it hated me. ”
Pope Francis went on to say, “Jesus chose us and redeemed us as a free gift of His love. With His death and resurrection He redeemed 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: since we are saved by Jesus, and the prince of the world does not want that, he hates us and encourages persecution, which from the time of Jesus and the birth of the Church continues to this day. How many Christian communities are being persecuted today! Why? Because of the hatred of the spirit of this world.
“How often, in difficult moments of history, have we heard it said: “Today our country needs heroes.”? Likewise, we can ask, “Today what does our Church need?” Martyrs, witnesses, that is, everyday saints of ordinary life, lives lived coherently; but we also need those who have the courage to accept the grace to be witnesses until the end, until death. All these are the living blood of the Church. They are the witnesses who carry forward the Church; those who witness to the fact that Jesus is risen, that Jesus is alive, who witness to Him with coherent lives and with the strength of the Holy Spirit they have received as a gift.”
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis said, “Remembering these witnesses of the faith and praying in this place is a great gift. It is a gift for the Community of Sant’Egidio, for the Church in Rome, for all the Christian communities of this city, and for so many pilgrims. The living legacy of martyrs today gives us peace and unity. They teach us that with the strength of love, with gentleness, one can fight against arrogance, violence, and war – and that peace can be achieved with patience.
“And so we can pray: O Lord, make us worthy witnesses of the Gospel and of your love; pour out your mercy upon humanity; renew your Church, protect persecuted Christians, grant peace to the whole world, soon.”