Jubilee 2000 Search


"Martyria", witness to the point of bloodshed is not only an experience belonging to Christians of the un-divided Church in the early centuries. "In our own century the martyrs have returned, many of them nameless, 'unknown soldiers' as it were of God's great cause". The Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio adveniente exhorts us to not mislay this heritage, indeed to ensure that the semen christianorum may bear fruit among the generations about to live the appointment with the Jubilee and also among those of the future. The Commission for New Martyrs therefore has been working over the last few months in this prospective of a service to ensure that the new martyrs will not be forgotten.

One of the primary objectives, identified and agreed on during a meeting on April 30th, is the compiling of a Register or Martyrology, sensu lato, which each Particular Church will help to prepare by collecting the first necessary basic historical documentation concerning these witnesses to the faith.

A Martyrology in a broad, general sense then, which, in the form of a Register, will serve to fix in the memory of the faithful of the local Churches and of the universal Church, that heritage of amazing testimonies of faith which lies hidden in the folds of the unsettled history of so many peoples and nations. Testimonies still vivid in the memory of those who survived, but who also shared in part the torments and sufferings of these "new martyrs", (those of Albania for example).

In working on this Register, it will fall solely to the local diocesan Bishop to identify those cases of ecclesial character and therefore meriting the opening of a canonical investigation to ascertain the existence of martyrdom. Only the local Ordinary of the place in which the witness of faith died, will have the faculty of eventually promoting the cause for beatification or canonization. It will fall exclusively to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to make a valuation of the probative material and a declaration of martyrdom.

The work of compiling the Register falls therefore to the local Churches whom the Holy Father has warmly invited to "do everything possible to ensure that the memory of those who have suffered martyrdom should be safeguarded" in order to honour their memory and to honour and pay homage to Christ by thus manifesting "the Redeemer's all-powerful presence through the fruits of faith, hope and charity present in men and women of many different tongues and races" (TMA, n. 37).

In giving a theological and juridical explanation of the term Martyrdom, the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines martyrdom as "the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith" and a martyr as one who, "bears witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united in charity". (n. 2473). Not the fruit of human will alone, but an action of grace, martyrdom is the proof of supreme love for Christ to whom the Christians called to this supreme act, offer themselves, obedient to the Holy Spirit.

Witness of faith must be considered in relation to physical death by killing, even when death is not immediate but rather the result of sufferings borne for the faith (e.g. the case of Christians, deported for anti-Christian motives and who died in a concentration camp, or soon after regaining freedom). It must also be noted that witnesses to the faith even unto death, must be set in the context of materialistic, tyrannical systems, radically opposed to Christian principles, within which the testimony was offered. Also to be clarified are the anti-Christian motivations of the persecutor and his will to persecute, "odium fidei". A will to persecute directed not only against the truth to be believed (for example faith in God, in the Blessed Trinity, in Christ), but also against the exercise of the virtues demanded of faith, that is a lifestyle which is coherent with the Christian faith.

In view of these reflections, the Commission for New Martyrs has seen fit to provide a guidebook for the National Committees which have already been formed and for representatives of Episcopates, as well as to indicate essential criteria of reference, together with a few suggestions for the organization the work of collecting material for the Register.

Because the "custodians" of theses memories (diocese, Religious congregations of pontifical and diocesan right...) are so varied and the material already received and arranged is so plentiful, (basic lists from Austria, Guatemala, Laos and Cambodia, Albania, Ukraine, Romania, more than 400 reports through the International Union of Superiors General coming from Europe, Latin America and Africa...) the Commission has been fully engaged in examining and arranging the documentation and has also realised the need to discern and organise ways to connect these "custodians", with the National Committees and the Commission itself.

A service to maintain the memory. Which also takes into account the communio sanctorum and the ecumenical aspect. To this purpose a sub-commission was formed to investigate together with the other Commissions and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Unity among Christians, opportunities and forms of possible common memories.

Marco Gnavi