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Pope Francis, riding in the popemobile, greets the crowd before his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square yesterday (CNS/Vatican Media)

Martyrdom is primarily an act of love, not heroism, and while it often comes in the midst of persecution, it should motivate Christians to seek peace and reconciliation, Pope Francis said yesterday. Source: OSV News.

Persecution and martyrdom are not a thing of the past, he told people at his weekly general audience. “Today there is persecution of Christians in the world. A lot. There are more martyrs today than there were” in the first centuries of Christianity.

As part of his series of talks about “zeal” for evangelisation, Pope Francis spoke about the witness of “the host of martyrs – men and women of every age, language and nation – who have given their life for Christ.”

“The martyrs, in imitation of Christ and with his grace, turn the violence of those who refuse the proclamation (of the Gospel) into a supreme occasion of love, which goes as far as forgiving their persecutors,” the Pope said. “This is interesting: martyrs always forgive their persecutors. Stephen, the first martyr, died praying, ‘Lord, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’ Martyrs always pray for their persecutors.”

To illustrate his point about modern martyrdom, Pope Francis drew attention specifically to Yemen, “a land that has for many years been afflicted by a terrible, forgotten war, that has caused many deaths and still causes many people, especially children, to suffer today.”

Out of a population of about 31.6 million people, the Vatican estimates the number of Catholics in Yemen to be about 1000.

In a situation of war and dire poverty, Pope Francis said, “there have been shining witnesses of faith, such as that of the Missionaries of Charity. They are still present today in Yemen, where they offer assistance to elderly who are sick and to people with disabilities. They welcome everyone, of any religion, because charity and fraternity have no boundaries.”


Martyrs witness to the power of love, Pope says (OSV News)