Martyrdom was the subject of Mgr. George Frendo’s talk for the meeting organized by Comunita’ Sant Egidio in Tirana 6 – 8 September.
Starting with a definition of martyrdom according to Thomas Aquinas as “the shedding of one’s blood for Christ’s sake” and “the right endurance of sufferings unjustly inflicted” followed by a brief history of Christian martyrs, Mgr Frendo expanded on the true meaning of martyrdom. The very word “martyr” means witness; therefore the martyr is the one who bears witness to his faith. Jesus’ own words “Greater love than this no one has, that a man lay down his life for his friends” lead us to consider martyrdom as the supreme expression of love for Christ.
Mgr Frendo’s talk included a discussion on whether a person who has been killed for any good cause can be deemed a martyr or if the term “martyr” should be strictly confined to a “witness of faith” who was killed as a result of professing the faith. For example the Church celebrates the martyrdom of Blessed John the Baptist, who suffered death not for refusing to deny the faith, but for reproving adultery.
A more familiar case is that of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Pope Paul VI, in the ceremony of Kolbe’s beatification in 1971, called him a “martyr of charity”. When Kolbe was canonised, Pope John Paul II insisted that the systematic hatred and extermination of peoples, propagated by the Nazis, was in fact an act of hatred of the Christian faith. Consequently Kolbe’s death equated to martyrdom.
In contemporary society, martyrdom acquires a still greater and particular importance. In a world that is torn by a secularized mentality, martyrdom tells this world that there are true values which make it worthwhile to sacrifice one’s life. The motive of this self-sacrifice, namely love for Christ and for truth, distinguishes radically Christian martyrdom from the kamikaze of fundamentalist Muslims, which is suicidal and aimed at revenge towards those who are different.
However, long before the birth of ISIS and of other anti-Christian movements that have emerged in the past decade Pope John Paul II stated on August 6th, 1993 that Christian martyrdom “has always accompanied and continues to accompany the life of the Church even today”. By their eloquent example of a life completely transfigured by the splendour of moral truth, Christian martyrs light up every period of history by reawakening its moral sense. By witnessing fully to the good, they are a living reproof to those who transgress the law.
More recent examples of martyrdom include the canonization of St Charles Luanga and companions, on October 18th, 1964 by Pope Paul VI. There are also many Albanians who suffered martyrdom during the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, a paranoiac Stalinist who imposed a special form of communism in the sense that it was not an a-theistic but rather an anti-theistic communism. A very interesting book in French about the persecution of the Catholic Church under his regime is entitled Ils ont voulu tuer Dieu, translated as “They wanted to kill God”. The very title tells us a lot about Hoxha’s anti-theistic communism.
At present a process for the beatification of forty Albanian martyrs is under way, all but two killed under the communist regime. All of them were priests (or clerics), with the exception of a twenty-two year old woman, Maria Tuci, killed barbarously because she was a catechist. Among the martyrs is Vinçenc Prendushi, the last Bishop of Durrës who died in prison.
To read the full text of Mgr. George Frendo‘s speech, click here.