PRAYER VIGIL ORGANIZED BY THE COMMUNITY OF SANT’EGIDIO
“In memory of those that in recent years have offered their lives for the Gospel”
(After the proclamation of Luke 21,5-18)
Rome - Basilica of S. Maria in Trastevere
Monday 29 March 2021
Rome, Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere
March 29, 2021
Dear brothers and sisters,
we have heard the words with which Jesus predicts the persecution that his disciples will suffer in every age "for his name's sake". Persecution from institutional circles (kings and rulers), from religious circles, even from family circles (parents, siblings, relatives, friends). Jesus is the profound reason for this aversion. It is He who, for the world, remains forever a "sign of contradiction" and who is rejected in Christians, his disciples.
But Jesus is also the one who remains at the side of the persecuted, giving them "word and wisdom" and sending them his spirit, so that their testimony becomes a message of love and hope, in the certainty that nothing will be lost and that no suffering endured for his sake will remain fruitless: "not a hair on your head will be lost”.
This Gospel truly reflects the current situation in many regions of the world where so many Christians, not only Catholics, continue to suffer and lose their lives "because of the name of Jesus”.
Suffice it to say that in 2020, 4,761 Christians were killed because of their faith, 13 Christians a day (World Watch List 2021 report by Open Doors). We are gathered here tonight, at the beginning of the Holy Week, to remember all these brothers and sisters of ours, contemporary martyrs of faith and charity, who gave their lives out of fidelity to the Gospel and out of fidelity to the service of others, especially the poorest and most forgotten, a service which they had embraced as their principal vocation in life.
Our memory and our prayer are meant to be a gesture of closeness to the martyrs of all the Christian churches, their families and their communities. The closeness between brothers and sisters in the faith encourages and gives hope because it breaks solitude and takes on the pain of others. All this was shown to us in an exemplary way by the Holy Father on his recent apostolic journey to Iraq. Pope Francis, overcoming many difficulties and facing possible risks, wanted to be present in person among the Christians, among the families and alongside the pastors of the Christian communities that have suffered persecution and the scourge of war in that land so rich in religious traditions. He wanted to meet the people, listen to their stories, share their suffering. He encouraged them, reminded them of the need for forgiveness and, at the same time, of the need to fight to build peace, even though this seems impossible. The Pope met not only with Christians, but also with representatives of other faiths to keep alive the dream of universal brotherhood, and he invited everyone "not to tire of praying for the conversion of hearts and for the triumph of a culture of life, of reconciliation and fraternal love, with respect for differences, for different religious traditions, in an effort to build a future of unity and collaboration among all people of good will". (Speech during the visit to the community of Qaraqosh, 7 March 2021).
Following the Pope's example, this evening we too join ideally with all those in the world who continue to face not only physical death, but also "psychological" and "spiritual" death caused by religious discrimination, lack of freedom, the impossibility of living and practicing their faith and that essential dimension of faith which is charity towards others. Let us think about their daily sufferings and try to carry them in our hearts, living them as our own sufferings. Our world is indeed a small one. What happens in Iraq or Pakistan or Nigeria is as if it were happening here. Nothing is foreign to us anymore. We are all close. Our spiritual closeness to the martyrs and our solidarity is good for the Christian communities living in difficult areas, but it is especially good for us. The global health crisis we are currently experiencing, with the serious social problems it entails, can provoke, even in us Christians, dangerous withdrawal into ourselves, so that the whole horizon of life risks being reduced to the sole concern of preserving our own health and economic well-being. Looking at the martyrs, therefore, is good for us. Their lives are like lights that illuminate the darkness of our fears and pettiness. They are disciples of Jesus who lived in the spirit of the beatitudes to the extreme. They show us that the purpose of life is not only to preserve it from any danger, but to give it out of love. Their testimony, often meek, silent and unknown to the world, tells us that it is not separation from others that saves us, but love for others. I therefore want to thank all those who are part of the Community of Sant ‘Egidio, not only for organizing this moment of prayer, but also for their generous commitment in many countries of the world in the service of peace and reconciliation. You live an apostolate of faith and charity, putting yourselves at the service of the loneliest, the poorest, those who have lost their families, those who have been forced to leave their land. In doing so, you are a great incentive for everyone to keep alive this "high ideal" of Christian life that the martyrs embodied. May all of us Christians feel encouraged not to be afraid, and to overcome our closures and our weariness in order to bear witness to our faith, with our words and with a life fully in accordance with the Gospel. “The blood of the martyrs, is the seed of Christians" said a writer from the early centuries of the Church and, in this regard, the Holy Father explained that martyrs are those "who carry the Church forward, who sustain the Church [...] A Church without martyrs, I dare say, is a Church without Jesus" (Morning Meditation, 30 January 2017). Dearly beloved, let us now present to the Lord, in our prayers, the given life of all the martyrs of faith and charity, that it may be invested with the light of the Resurrection and become a seed of salvation and reconciliation in all those places where they shed their blood and for the whole world.