For Pope Francis, martyrs are the strength of the Church

By Hannah Brockhaus

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Pope Francis says Mass at the chapel of Santa Marta house in the Vatican, June 9, 2016. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis said Monday the strength of the Church does not reside primarily in grand gestures, but in the quiet faith of Christians in minority areas, who continue to practice even in the face of persecution and martyrdom.

“We are pleased when we see a great ecclesial act, which has been a great success, the Christians revealing themselves,” he said in his homily during Mass at the chapel of the Vatican's Casa Santa Marta Jan. 30. “And this is beautiful! Is this strength? Yes, it is strength.”

“But the greatest strength of the Church today is in the small Churches, tiny, with few people, persecuted, with their bishops in prison,” he continued. “This is our glory now, this is our glory and our strength today.”

In his homily, Francis called out those who do not experience this kind of persecution, yet complain about small grievances: “This is the glory of the Church and our support,” he said, “and also our humiliation.”

“We who have everything, everything seems easy for us and if we are missing something we complain … But we think of these brothers and sisters who today, greater in number than those of the first centuries, are suffering martyrdom!”

Reflecting on a passage from Hebrews 11, which calls to mind the history of the Lord’s people, the Pope said that “without memory there is no hope.”

Dividing the history into three categories, he said the first is the “memory of docility,” the memory of those people who were quietly obedient to the Lord’s will, like Abraham, who bravely left his home without knowing where he was going.

The second, he said, is the memory of mighty deeds, as performed by great men from the Old Testament, such as David, Samuel, and the prophets, “so many people, who have made great achievements in the history of Israel.”

And the third is the “memory of martyrs,” the people in the first centuries of the Church who suffered “and gave their lives like Jesus,” who “were stoned” and “killed by the sword,” the Pope said.

This is the Church, Francis said. The “people of God,” who though they are sinners, obey his will, “do great things” and give “testimony of Jesus Christ even unto martyrdom.”

“The martyrs are those who carry out the Church, they are the ones who support the Church, who have supported and support today,” he said.

“A Church without martyrs … is a Church without Jesus,” he said, explaining that there are even more martyrs today, but the media don’t report on it “because it is not news.”

“But many Christians in the world today are blessed because they are persecuted, insulted, imprisoned. There are so many in prison, only to bring a cross or to confess Jesus Christ!”

“They with their martyrdom, with their testimony, with their suffering, even giving their lives, offering life, they sow Christians for the future and in other churches,” he said.

“We offer this Mass for our martyrs, for those who now suffer, for the Churches that are suffering, who do not have freedom. And we thank the Lord we are present with the fortitude of His Spirit in our brothers and sisters who today give testimony of Him.”

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