Remember the First Martyrs, and the most recent ones

On June 30, the Church commemorates the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. Our faith traces back to Jesus crucified, as St. Paul made clear (see 1 Cor 1:23; 1 Cor 2:2), and ever since, from Deacon Stephen onward, the story of the Church has been the story of men, women, and children who loved Christ enough to follow Him all the way to their deaths, and to life eternal. 

That roll call of martyrs includes the Marian Martyrs of Rosica, Belarus: Blessed George Kaszyra (1904-1943) and Blessed Anthony Leszczewicz (1890-1943). The two Marian martyrs were among more than 1,500 people in Belarus killed by the Nazis in February of 1943. 

Today more than ever before, our brothers and sisters in Christ are going home to God because of their fidelity to the faith which saves. As Pope Francis said in his June 20, 2014 "Address To participants in the Conference on International Religious Freedom and the Global Clash of Values": 

Nowadays, persecution of Christians is stronger than it was in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs than in that time. This is happening 1700 years after the edict of Constantine, which granted Christians the freedom to publicly profess their faith.

As we commemorate our first martyrs, let us not forget our most recent martyrs. As John Allen reminds us in his book The Global War on Christians, it's important to tell the stories of our modern martyrs, as well, to inform the Body of Christ of the suffering of its members so that the rest of the Body can accompany the persecuted through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, offering all this for the protection of all Christians, conversion of their persecutors, and strength and courage for those being called to witness even to the point of suffering and death. 

Let us commit to supporting organizations such as the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need, learning more about those enduring persecution today, and praying and fasting for the modern martyrs. Let us ask the intercession of the first Roman martyrs for ourselves and the whole Church, that we all might be joined in bonds of unity through truth and love, and that we all might be made worthy of going home to heaven at the end of our earthly lives. 


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