Twentieth century martyrs

Today is the feast day of several twentieth century martyrs.

St. Toribio Romo (1900-1928) was a Mexican priest who was killed during the time of the Cristero rebellion. He was not involved directly in the rebellion but had continued his ministry despite the prohibitions of the authorities. On February 28, 1928, soldiers broke into his room and shot him.

His short life has been overshadowed by a ministry that he has assumed after death. A number of migrants from Mexico to the United States have be assisted by a young priest when they were in dire circumstances who identified himself as Toribio Romo. A few stories can be found here. He is thus invoked as a protector of migrants, many of whom visit his shrine in Santa Ana de Guadalupe, Jalisco.

Today is also the feast of Blessed Franz Jägerstëtter (1907-1943), an Austrian peasant who refused to serve in Hitler’s army, despite the admonitions of friends and clergy. He saw Nazism as a train headed to hell and refused to be part of this. His story would have been forgotten if the US Catholic sociologist Gordon Zahn had not published his life and some of his letters in the early 1960s in the book In Solitary Witness. His witness against war influenced many, including me, in our opposition to the Viet Nam war and to war in general.

Today is also the anniversary of the martyrdom in 1996 of the Trappist Martyrs of Our Lady of Atlas in Algiers. Their story is beautifully portrayed in the films Of Gods and Men. Their witness has inspired me since I first read their story in John W. Kiser’s The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria.

Especially poignant is the last testimony of the prior, Christian de Chergé which he wrote several years before his death. The full text can be found in several languages here. In the last sentences he addressed his future killers:

And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a “GOD-BLESS” for you, too, because in God’s face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.
Amen! In sh’ Allah!”

His words of love for those who killed him are an inspiration in a time when we demonize our opponents and enemies.

These martyrs – and many others – can teach us about the love of God who does not leave us orphans and which calls us to care for the migrant, to refuse to kill, and to love our enemies.

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