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Divine Mercy and Martyrdom

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By Chris Sparks (May 11, 2017)
The Blood and Water that streamed forth from the Heart of Christ on Good Friday more than 2,000 years ago continues to stream from the Mystical Body of Christ in the form of the blood of the martyrs.

The Christian churches and ecclesial communities have produced martyrs all across these millennia, but never more so than in the last 150 years. Indeed, the situation today is dramatic.

Noted journalist and Vatican expert John Allen summed matters up bluntly in a piece for The Spectator on Oct. 5, 2013.

"Consider three points about the landscape of anti-Christian persecution today, as shocking as they are generally unknown," Allen said. "According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular observatory based in Frankfurt, Germany, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Statistically speaking, that makes Christians by far the most persecuted religious body on the planet.

"According to the Pew Forum, between 2006 and 2010 Christians faced some form of discrimination, either de jure or de facto, in a staggering total of 139 nations, which is almost three-quarters of all the countries on earth," he continued. "According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what the centre calls a 'situation of witness' each year for the past decade. That works out to 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour, seven days a week and 365 days a year, for reasons related to their faith.

"In effect, the world is witnessing the rise of an entire new generation of Christian martyrs," concluded Allen, author of The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution. "The carnage is occurring on such a vast scale that it represents not only the most dramatic Christian story of our time, but arguably the premier human rights challenge of this era as well."

And the Holy Father is drawing attention to the tremendous persecution of Christians taking place. Often, his words and deeds in commemoration of the martyrs have occurred in the context of Divine Mercy.

For instance, in February 2015, Pope Francis announced that he was declaring St. Gregory of Narek (950-1003 A.D.), one of the great Armenian saints, a Doctor of the Church. On April 12, 2015, Divine Mercy Sunday, the day after the promulgation of the papal bull extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Holy Father concelebrated Mass with Armenian Church leaders. Pope Francis spoke before the Mass of the Armenian genocide, calling it the first genocide of the 20th century, the prelude to the terrible slaughters under Nazism and Stalinism, of the mass killings in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi, and Bosnia, among others.

During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Holy Father traveled to Armenia, which pious tradition in that country tells us was evangelized by the apostles Sts. Bartholomew and Thaddaeus. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as the state religion in 301 A.D. There, he spoke again of the terrible genocide of the Armenians perpetrated under the Ottoman Turks in the first half of the 20th century.

During the papal visit to Poland for World Youth Day 2016, Pope Francis made a point to visit the prison cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe was martyred in Auschwitz, as well as the Birkenau camp.

Such references didn't cease with the end of the Jubilee Year, either. In the run up to Easter and throughout Easter week 2017, the Holy Father has, time and again, spoken of the persecuted Christians.

• On April 14, Good Friday, the Holy Father attended the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) in the Colosseum in Rome. There, he spoke of the many innocent men and women who have had to shed their blood because of their race, social situation, or faith.

• On April 15, Easter Sunday, Pope Francis called on Christians to hold onto their faith in the face of suffering and hatred in the world today.

• On April 17, Easter Monday, the Holy Father spoke to the crowd in St. Peter's Square, asking especially for prayers for all those who are persecuted for their faith.

• On April 22, Divine Mercy Saturday, Pope Francis celebrated a special Liturgy of the Word in commemoration of the martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries. Held at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew in Rome (a church dedicated by St. John Paul II as a shrine in honor of the modern martyrs), the Liturgy of the Word was celebrated together with members of the Community of Sant'Egidio, who have stewardship of the basilica. Friends and relatives of modern martyrs bore witness to the heroic Christian faith of those they had known, including, according to the Vatican, "Karl Schneider, son of Paul, the Reformed Church Pastor killed in the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald in 1939 for having described the objectives of Nazi Germany as 'irreconcilable with the words of the Bible'; Roselyne, sister of Father Jacques Hamel, assassinated in Rouen, France, on 26 July last year while celebrating Holy Mass, and Francisco Hernandez Guevara, friend of William Quijano, a young member of the Sant'Egidio Community in Salvador who was killed in 2009 while working to keep young people away from criminal rings."

All of this is only a sampling of the Holy Father's calls for prayer and expressions of concern for the persecuted Christians. So why does it seem like the Holy Father keeps tying together Divine Mercy and the martyrs in his public statements?

Of course, Jesus, the Divine Mercy Incarnate, is the Martyr of martyrs, retaining the wounds of His Crucifixion even in His resurrected body. We know this because He invited St. Thomas the Apostle to put his finger in the holes in Christ's hands and feet, and to put his hand in the wound in the side of Christ (see Jn 20:24-29). Jesus stands now for all eternity as the Lamb who was slain, the pure and perfect sacrifice in the heavenly temple, interceding before God the Father for all creation (see Rev 5:5-13). So it makes sense that Holy Week and the Octave of Easter would be a time to remember the persecuted members of the Body of Christ in a special way. After all, whatever has been done to the least of the members of the Body of Christ has been done to Christ (see Mt 25:40).

Jesus made this very clear to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Saul, who later became St. Paul, was vigorously persecuting the early Christian Church, thinking he was doing the will of God (part of the fulfillment of Christ's prophecy on Jn 16:2). When Saul asked, "Who are you, Lord?" the Lord responded, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:5; see also 26:15).

Note: Jesus didn't say, "I am the Lord of those whom you are persecuting." Nor did He say, "I'm the Teacher, or the Master, or the One whom they follow." He said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."

We are the members of the Mystical Body of Christ, which means we are really and truly identified with Christ on a deep level — indeed, on the level of sharing in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity through the Eucharist. We are baptized into His death and resurrection. We are confirmed with His own Holy Spirit. We are one with Him, united with Him in a covenantal, one flesh relationship. We are meant to be the face of Jesus in the world, the presence of the Living God, the ones who love as He loves, who give as He gives, who suffer and die as He suffered and died in order to rise again as He rose again, and to live eternally with Him as He lives eternally. We are meant to be the face of Jesus, which is the face of the Father's mercy. We are meant to be the hands of Christ doing the works of mercy, the feet of Christ hurrying to save those in need, the Heart of Christ having compassion on those most in need of God's mercy.

So that means that when any Christians are suffering, are persecuted, the whole Body should be aware of it. The whole Body should be praying for them; should be sending them aid; should be defending them according to the laws of love of God, neighbor, and enemies; should be speaking out on their behalf. When your leg is in pain, doesn't the head try to find relief, the hands reach for the medicine and the bandages, the rest of the body suffer in sympathy? So too should it be with the Mystical Body of Christ.

All of this has a particular importance in 2017, because this year is the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima, Portugal. The second and third parts of the secret of Fatima, given on July 13, 2017, offered forewarning of the tremendous persecutions of Christians to come throughout the 20th century, as well as ways to avoid those persecutions or lessen them, including the consecration of Russia and the First Saturdays devotion.

So let us do as the Holy Father has done. Let us tie together our devotion to Divine Mercy with love and mercy for our persecuted brethren. Let us help the persecuted Christians through prayer, by spreading the word of their sufferings, and by sending them whatever assistance we can through charities such as Aid to the Church in Need and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. Let us do our part as members of the Body of Christ, and love those most in need, especially when they are our brethren in Christ.

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Elizabeth - May 15, 2017

So there is clear evidence that the persecution of Christians have grown steadily in recent years; and we are the most persecuted group in the world today. But Fatima gives us hope; not to despair. We should persistently pray for the protection of Christians and pray also for their persecutors - remember the prayer given by the Angel to the children at Fatima, which included the outrages of those who reject Christ. Obviously, the hatred of Christians is the hatred of Christ Himself because we are His body.