“Today. Today there are persecutions of Christians throughout the world — many, many. There are more martyrs today than in the first times. Many.”
Pope Francis is dedicating his weekly Wednesday catechesis to the theme of sharing the Good News of Christ and on April 19, he reflected on those who have “witnessed” to Christ with their lives, that is, the martyrs.
The word “martyr” derives from the Greek martyria, which indeed means witness. That is, a martyr is a witness, one who bears witness to the point of shedding their blood. However, very soon in the Church the word martyr began to be used to indicate those who bore witness to the point of shedding their blood. That is, a martyr can be one who witnesses every day. But it was used afterwards for one who gives their blood, who gives their life.
But right away, the Pope had a word of caution. Let us not think of martyrs as somehow peculiar, lone actors:
They aren’t to be seen as “‘heroes’ who acted individually, like flowers blooming in a desert,” he said, “but as the ripe and excellent fruit of the vineyard of the Lord, which is the Church.”
The martyrs are Christians who live deeply the mystery of the Eucharist, Pope Francis explained: “by participating assiduously in the celebration of the Eucharist, [they] were led by the Spirit to base their lives on that mystery of love: namely, on the fact that the Lord Jesus had given his life for them, and therefore that they too could and should give their life for Him and for their brothers and sisters. A great generosity, the journey of Christian witness.”
Then the Pope had another word of caution: The error of thinking that martyrdom is a thing of the past.
According to the NGO Open Doors, 360 million Christians are today strongly persecuted and discriminated against, that is to say 1 in 7 Christians in the world. In a report published in January 2023, the Protestant organization described a “staggering increase in persecution over the past 30 years,” all churches included.
The Pope knows well this data:
As I have already said many times before, they are more numerous in our time than in the first centuries. Today there are many martyrs in the Church, many of them, because for confessing the Christian faith they are banished from society or end up in prison … there are many. […]
Although martyrdom is asked of only a few, ‘nevertheless all must be prepared to confess Christ before men.’ […]
But, were these persecutions something of those times? No, no: today. Today there are persecutions of Christians throughout the world — many, many. There are more martyrs today than in the first times. Many. The martyrs show us that every Christian is called to the witness of life, even when this does not go as far as the shedding of blood, making a gift of themselves to God and to their brethren, in imitation of Jesus.
– Fr Nicholas Aquilina