prepare yourself for trials.
The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death
the Son of Man will rise.
Mark 9: 31
The memory of the martyrs reminds us that witnessing to the Truth of God has consequences. The way of following Christ passes through the Cross.
The twentieth century is full of martyrs who died for their faith. The circumstances of their deaths and the reasons why they were killed are many. And some may have died more for reasons of politics than of faith.
Today’s martyrs illustrate the range of martyrs.
Today the Catholic church celebrates Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian peasant who refused to serve in Hitler’s army. He was beheaded by the Nazis on August 9, 1943. Today is the anniversary of his baptism in 1907. His witness of refusal to support Nazism has inspired me and many to oppose war and totalitarian regimes. An article by the Catholic Peace Fellowship can be found here. I wrote about him here and here.
Today is also the feast of St. Cristobal Magallenes and other Mexican Catholics killed in the wake of the Cristero rebellion. Father Cristobal preached against the rebellion but he was arrested and killed, forgiving his enemies.
Today is also the anniversary of the deaths of Trappist Father Christian de Chergé and seven other Trappists in Algeria. Offering a contemplative witness in Algeria which included dialogue with Islam, they were kidnapped and killed by rebels. In a letter written a few years before their death, Père Christian wrote a letter that ended with these moving words to his murderer:
May we be granted to meet each other again, happy thieves, in paradise, should it please God, the Father of both of us. Amen! In sh’Allah!
Today is also the anniversary of the killing in Peru of Australian Sister Irene McCormick by the Sendero Luminoso, a rebel group.
The list can go on of the anniversary of martyrs – including
- Fr. Pedro Aguilar Santos, killed in El Quiché, Guatemala, in 1981.
- Norma Coronoa Sapiens, president and founding member of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, killed — death squad style — in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico, in 1991.
- Fr. Carlos Domiak, killed in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, 1975.
It must be noted that most Latin American martyrs of the late twentieth century were not killed by rebels but by government forces or right wing death squads who opposed the church’s defense of the poor. Many of these governments were supported by the US government.
These women and men knew that their Lord did not turn back in the face of persecution. The knew that serving Him and the poor, being witnesses to Love, can lead to one’s death.
The martyrs challenge us but they also offer us a paradoxical confirmation of the closing lines of today’s first reading (Sirach 2: 11)
Compassionate and merciful is the Lord;
he forgives sins, he saves in time of trouble
and he is a protector to all who seek him in truth.
The martyrs die – but they believe that God is with them. God’s protection doesn’t necessarily mean protection from death and suffering. It means a deep peace in the face of the Cross.