Pope Francis: ‘Every Christian is Called to the Witness of Life’
Pope Francis focused on the topic of martyrdom and the witness it gives others about the Christian faith.
Even when not called to the particular grace of martyrdom, every Christian is called to testify to Christ through his or her life, Pope Francis said on Wednesday.
At his weekly audience with the public April 19, the Pope quoted the Church’s dogmatic constitution, Lumen gentium, to highlight a Christian’s obligation to be a positive witness of the faith in both life and death.
“Although martyrdom is asked of only a few,” he said, “‘nevertheless all must be prepared to confess Christ before men. They must be prepared to make the profession of faith even in the midst of persecutions, which will never be lacking to the Church, in following the way of the cross.’”
Persecution of Christians, he added, is not just a thing of the past.
“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,” he said.
Pope Francis spoke to a large crowd of people in St. Peter’s Square on a sunny, spring morning.
The current theme of his Wednesday general audiences is “the passion for evangelization.” On April 19, he focused on the topic of martyrdom and the witness it gives others about the Christian faith.
“Today we will turn our attention not to a single figure, but to the host of martyrs, men and women of every age, language, and nation who have given their life for Christ, who have shed their blood to confess Christ,” he said. “After the generation of the Apostles, they were the quintessential ‘witnesses’ of the Gospel.”
“The word ‘martyr’ derives from the Greek ‘martyria,’ which indeed means witness,” he explained.
Francis emphasized that the Christian martyrs are not individual heroes who acted alone, but are like a “ripe and excellent fruit of the vineyard of the Lord, which is the Church.”
“Christians,” he said, “by participating assiduously in the celebration of the Eucharist, 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.”
He called Catholics to remember the many men and women who have given their lives for Christ over the more than 2,000-year history of the Church, especially the numerous martyrs of modern times.
Quoting again from Lumen gentium, he said, “the Second Vatican Council reminds us that ‘the Church considers martyrdom,’ this disciple, ‘as an exceptional gift and as the fullest proof of love. By martyrdom a disciple is transformed into an image of his Master by freely accepting death for the salvation of the world — as well as his conformity to Christ in the shedding of his blood.’”
Pope Francis concluded his message by naming some of the Church’s recent martyrs in the country of Yemen, including three Missionaries of Charity — Sister Aletta, Sister Zelia, and Sister Michael — who were shot dead in July 1998 while returning home from Mass.
He also recalled the March 2016 attack on the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen, in which a gunman killed 16 people, including Sister Anselm, Sister Marguerite, Sister Reginette, and Sister Judith. The Catholic missionary priest Father Tom Uzhunnalil was kidnapped in the attack. He was released 18 months later in September 2017.
The Pope pointed out that some of the people killed in the 2016 shooting were Muslims who collaborated with the Missionaries of Charity in their work.
“It moves us to see how the witness of blood can unite people of different religions,” he said. “One should never kill in the name of God, because for him we are all brothers and sisters. But together one can give one’s life for others.”
“Let us pray, then, that we may never tire of bearing witness to the Gospel, even in times of tribulation,” Francis said. “May all the martyr saints be seeds of peace and reconciliation among peoples, for a more humane and fraternal world, as we await the full manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven, when God will be all in all.”