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Vatican commission will catalogue non-Catholic Christian martyrs

Vatican City Via Petri aux flambeaux

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 07/05/23

Soon after inscribing the Coptic martyrs in the Roman martyrology, the Pope has set up a new commission.

Just weeks after Pope Francis included Coptic martyrs in the Catholic Roman martyrology, he has established a working commission in the Dicastery for Saints’ Causes to catalogue all Christian martyrs, including non-Catholic Christians.

Twenty-one Christian martyrs, including 20 Copts killed by Daech in 2015 in Libya, were included in the Roman martyrology, Pope Francis announced on May 11, 2023, in front of Patriarch Tawadros II, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who was present in Rome. This is historic: The Catholic Church and the Coptic Church have saints of the first centuries in common, but these will be the first saints recognized by both Churches since the split of the fifth century.

Now, the Pope released a letter on Wednesday, July 5, in which he announced the establishment of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints’ “Commission of the New Martyrs – Witnesses of the Faith,” in view of the Jubilee of 2025.

Vatican News explained:

The working group’s objective will be to draw up a catalogue of all Christians who have shed their blood to confess Christ and bear witness to the Gospel. 

“Martyrs in the Church,” wrote the Pope, “are witnesses of the hope that comes from faith in Christ and incites to true charity. Hope keeps alive the profound conviction that good is stronger than evil, because God in Christ has conquered sin and death.”

The Commission will continue the search to identify the Witnesses of the Faith in this first quarter of the century and to continue in the future. This work was started during the Jubilee Year of 2000.

“Martyrs,” the Pope continued, “have accompanied the life of the Church in every age and flourish as ‘ripe and excellent fruits of the vineyard of the Lord’ even today… Martyrs are more numerous in our time than in the first centuries: they are bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, lay people and families, who in the different countries of the world, with the gift of their lives, have offered the supreme proof of charity.”

Ecumenism of blood

Saint John Paul II had already stated in his Letter Tertio millennio adveniente that everything must be done to ensure that the legacy of the “unknown soldiers of God’s great cause” is not lost.

See our reports on the church that has taken up this work:

On May 7, 2000, these very martyrs were remembered during an ecumenical celebration, which saw gathered at the Colosseum, together with the Bishop of Rome, representatives of Churches and ecclesial communities from all over the world.

Ecumenism of blood

Pope Francis has repeatedly called this shared testimony to Christ an “ecumenism of blood.”

“In the next Jubilee as well,” the Pope added, “we will be united for a similar celebration. With this initiative, we do not intend to establish new criteria for the canonical ascertainment of martyrdom, but to continue the initiated survey of those who, to this day, continue to be killed simply because they are Christians.”

“It is therefore a matter of continuing,” explained the Pope, “the historical reconnaissance to gather the testimonies of life, up to the shedding of blood, of these sisters and brothers of ours, so that their memory may stand out as a treasure that the Christian community safeguards. The research will concern not only the Catholic Church, but will extend to all Christian denominations.” 

Single voice of Christian martyrs

Pope Francis went on to write that “even in these times of ours in which we are witnessing a change of era, Christians continue to show, in contexts of great risk, the vitality of Baptism that unites us. Many, in fact, are those who, despite being aware of the dangers they face, manifest their faith or participate in the Sunday Eucharist. Others are killed in the effort to assist in charity the lives of the poor, in caring for those discarded by society, in cherishing and promoting the gift of peace and the power of forgiveness. Still others are silent victims, as individuals or in groups, of the upheavals of history. To all of them we owe a great debt and we cannot forget them.”

The work of the Commission will therefore make it possible to place side by side with the martyrs, officially recognised by the Church, the documented testimonies of “these brothers and sisters of ours, within a vast panorama in which the single voice of the martyria of Christians resounds.” 

The Commission will avail itself of “the active contribution” of the particular Churches, religious institutes and all other Christian realities.

“In a world where at times it seems that evil prevails,” the Pope concluded, “I am certain that the elaboration of this Catalogue, also in the context of the approaching Jubilee, will help believers to read the reasons for life and good.”

EcumenismMartyrsPope Francis
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