From our most basic notions of Catechism we know that “Baptism of blood” incorporates into the Holy Church those who have died for their faith in Christ, even though they have not yet received sacramental Baptism. Francis, in turn, speaks of an “ecumenism of blood”, which would unite all of those who suffer persecution; Catholics, Orthodox, Copts and Lutherans, at times even including Muslims and ministers of other religions on the list. Consequently, many questions arise…
It is not necessary to have profound studies to have a basic notion about the Roman Martyrology, the voluminous catalogue of the saints and blessed honored by the Catholic Church.
Ever since the early Church, the faithful have carefully registered the names of those who have died for the faith, as well as the date of their martyrdom, which they rightly called dies natalis, since it was the day of their entrance into eternity. Diverse martyrologies were thus elaborated, since each particular church had their own. In 1586, during the pontificate of Gregory XIII, a compilation of the first Roman Martyrology was undertaken, containing not only martyrs, as its name suggests, but all of the saints and blessed recognized as such by the authority of the Church.
Naturally, this work must up-dated at times, since there are always new canonizations and beatifications taking place. And this is what has happened throughout the centuries.
In a recent speech to a patriarch of the Orthodox church, Francis mentioned the ‘only martyrology of the Church of God’, which could be understood as a eulogizing reference to the well-known Roman Martyrology. Nonetheless, considering his affirmations within the same speech, one concludes that he was speaking of a very different martyrology, perhaps a new edition yet undisclosed to the public and greatly amplified, for it includes Orthodox, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Copts…
Moreover, Francis attributes a curious capacity to all of these heretics and schismatics, the very opposite of what Catholic piety always considered regarding the intercession of the blessed. For example, those dedicated to Biblical studies and translators pray to St. Jerome, since the great glory of this Doctor of the Church
shone through his study and translation of the sacred texts. Doctors have recourse to St. Luke, St. Cosmos and Damien or St. Pantaleon, who exercised this profession during their lives, and nurses have recourse to St. John of God for the same reason. Those offering lodging pray to St. Marta and musicians pray to St. Cecilia. There are even unique devotions, such as photographers praying to St. Veronica since the face of Christ was printed on her veil, or radio announcers and operators who pray to the Archangel Gabriel, due to the great news that he announced to the Virgin Mary.
Francis could not follow the same criteria with his innovating ‘martyrology’. As such, the Christians of other confessions, who did not live united to Christ in the Church, are praised as being seeds of union…
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We truly feel that the words of the Apostle Paul apply to us: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26). Shared sufferings have enabled Christians, otherwise divided in so many ways, to grow closer to one another. Just as in the early Church the shedding of the blood of martyrs became the seed of new Christians, so today the blood of the many martyrs of all the Churches has become the seed of Christian unity. The martyrs and saints of all the ecclesial traditions are already one in Christ. Their names are inscribed in the one martyrologium of the Church of God. The ecumenism of the martyrs is a summons to us, here and now, to advance on the path to ever greater unity
. From the beginning, yours has been a Church of martyrs. Today too, you are witnessing a devastating outbreak of violence against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East and in some parts of Africa. […] Let us pray for one another, invoking the protection of the martyrs and saints upon all the faithful entrusted to our pastoral care
. May the Holy Spirit continue to enlighten us and guide our steps towards harmony and peace. May he nourish in us the hope that one day, with God’s help, we will be united around the altar of Christ’s sacrifice in the fullness of eucharistic communion. (Address to the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch Tewahedo, February 29, 2016
“Today we are witnessing the persecution of Christians and… I was just in Albania… They told me that they didn’t ask if you were Catholic or Orthodox… Are you Christian? Boom! Currently in the Middle East, in Africa, in many places, how many Christians have died! They don’t ask them if they are Pentecostal, Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox… Are they Christians? They kill them because they believe in Christ. This is the ecumenism of blood.
I remember: once I was in Hamburg, around 1986 or 87, and I met a priest. And the priest was working on the cause of beatification for a Catholic priest who had been guillotined by the Nazis because he taught the catechism to the young people. But in studying he had seen the list of those condemned to death that day, and right behind him there was a Lutheran pastor who was sentenced for the same thing. So the blood of the priest was mingled with that of the pastor. The priest went to the bishop and said to him: “Either I’m moving the two causes forward together, or I’m not doing anything.” Ecumenism of blood.”(Address to the leaders of the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches)
[Andrea Tornielli]: Is Christian unity a priority for you?
[Francis]: Yes, for me ecumenism is a priority. Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians. We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for. I knew a parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism. After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: “I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest’s.” This is what ecumenism of blood is. It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don’t ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptized in. We need to take these facts into consideration.” (Interview with Andrea Tornielli, December 14, 2013)
“The sufferings endured by Christians in these last decades have made a unique and invaluable contribution to the unity of Christ’s disciples. As in the ancient Church, the blood of the martyrs became the seed of new Christians. So too in our time the blood of innumerable Christians has become a seed of unity. The ecumenism of suffering and of the martyrdom of blood are a powerful summons to walk the long path of reconciliation between the Churches, by courageously and decisively abandoning ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit. We feel the duty to follow this fraternal path also out of the debt of gratitude we owe to the suffering so many of our brothers and sisters, which is salvific because it is united to the Passion of Christ.” (Speech to Armenian Patriarch Karekin II, May 8, 2014)
“For persecutors, we are not divided; we are not Lutherans, Orthodox, Evangelicals, Catholics…No! We are one in their eyes! For persecutors we are Christians! They are not interested in anything else. This is the ecumenism of blood that we experience today. Remember: seek the unity which is the work of the Holy Spirit and do not be afraid of diversity. The breathing of Christians draws in the new air of the Holy Spirit and then exhales it upon the world: it is the prayer of praise and missionary outreach. Share baptism in the Holy Spirit with everyone in the Church. Spiritual ecumenism and the ecumenism of blood. The unity of the Body of Christ. Prepare the Bride for the Bridegroom who comes! One Bride only! All.
(Rev 22:17).” (To members of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships, October 31, 2014)
“In this moment of prayer for unity, I would also like to remember our martyrs, the martyrs of today. They are witnesses to Jesus Christ, and they are persecuted and killed because they are Christians. Those who persecute them make no distinction between the religious communities to which they belong. They are Christians and for that they are persecuted. This, brothers and sisters, is the ecumenism of blood
.” (Homily on the Solemnity of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, January 25, 2015
“Allow me to use my mother tongue to express a profound and sad sentiment. Today I have read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. They said only: “Jesus, help me”. They were assassinated for the mere fact of being Christians. You, Brother, in your discourse, referred to what is happening in Jesus’ land. The blood of our Christian brothers is a testimony that calls to us. Regardless of whether they are Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Lutherans – this does not matter, they are Christians. And blood is the same. Their blood confesses Christ. In remembrance of these brothers of ours who have died for the mere fact of confessing Christ, I ask that we encourage each other to go ahead with this ecumenism, that is giving us strength, this ecumenism of blood. The martyrs are all Christians. Let us all pray for each other.”(Audience with the representatives of the Church of Scotland (Reformed), February 16, 2015)
“We offer this Mass for our 21 Coptic brothers, slaughtered for the sole reason that they were Christians”. “Let us pray for them, that the Lord welcome them as martyrs, for their families, for my brother Tawadros, who is suffering greatly.” (Homily in Santa Marta, February 17, 2015)
“With great distress and sadness I learn of the further shocking violence perpetrated against innocent Christians in Libya. I know that Your Holiness is suffering deeply in heart and mind at the sight of your faithful children being killed for the sole reason that they are followers of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ […] It makes no difference whether the victims are Catholic, Copt, Orthodox or Protestant. Their blood is one and the same in their confession of Christ! The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard by everyone who can still distinguish between good and evil.” (Message to the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church, April 21, 2015)
The tragic experiences and the blood shed by our faithful who were persecuted and killed for the sole reason of being Christian, remind us all the more that the ecumenism of martyrdom unites us and encourages us along the way to peace and reconciliation
. For, as Saint Paul writes: “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1Cor 12:26). The mystery of Jesus who died and rose out of love lies at the heart of our journey towards full unity. Once again, the martyrs are our guides
. In the early Church the blood of the martyrs was the seed of new Christians. So too in our own day, may the blood of so many martyrs be the seed of unity among all Christ’s disciples, a sign and instrument of communion and peace for the world.
(Common Declaration, Francis and Tawadros II, no. 9-10, Cairo, April 28, 2016
The deepening progress of our ecumenical journey
is also sustained, in mysterious and quite relevant way, by a genuine ecumenism of blood
. Saint John tells us that Jesus came “with water and blood” (1 Jn 5:6); whoever believes in him thus “overcomes the world” (1 Jn 5:5). With water and blood: by living a new life in our common baptism, a life of love always and for all, even at the cost of the sacrifice of one’s life. How many martyrs in this land, from the first centuries of Christianity, have lived their faith heroically to the end, shedding their blood rather than denying the Lord and yielding to the enticements of evil, or merely to the temptation of repaying evil with evil! The venerable Martyrology of the Coptic Church bears eloquent witness to this
. Even in recent days, tragically, the innocent blood of defenceless Christians was cruelly shed: their innocent blood unites us
. Most dear brother, just as the heavenly Jerusalem is one, so too is our martyrology
; your sufferings are also our sufferings. Strengthened by this witness, let us strive to oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity, praying that all these sacrifices may open the way to a future of full communion between us and of peace for all.
(Courtesy visit to Tawadros II, Cairo, April 28, 2017
Once more the martyrs show us the way. How many times has the sacrifice of their lives led Christians, otherwise divided in so many things, to unity! The martyrs and saints of all ecclesial traditions are already one in Christ
(cf. Jn 17:22); their names are written in the one common martyrology of God’s Church
. Having sacrificed themselves on earth out of love, they dwell in the one heavenly Jerusalem, gathered around the Lamb who was slain (Rev 7:13-17). Their lives, offered as a gift, call us to communion, to hasten along the path to full unity
. Just as in the early Church the blood of the martyrs was the seed of new Christians, so in our own day may the blood of so many martyrs be a seed of unity between believers, a sign and instrument of a future of communion and peace.
(Address to members of the International joint commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, January 27, 2017
Brothers and Sisters, I invite you to pray together for our Egyptian Coptic brothers who were killed because they did not want to deny their faith
. Together with them, with their bishops, with my brother Tawadros, I invite you to pray together in silence and then a Hail Mary.
[Silence – “Hail Mary”]
And let us not forget that today there are more martyrs than in ancient times, than in the early times of the Church.
There are more. (Pastoral visit to Genoa, meeting with Priests and Consecrated, May 27, 2017
I again wish to express my closeness to my dear brother, Pope Tawadros ii, and to the entire nation of Egypt which, two days ago, was struck by another act of savage violence. The victims, including children, were faithful who were on their way to a shrine to pray, and were killed after they refused to deny their Christian faith. May the Lord welcome these courageous witnesses, these martyrs, into his peace; and may he convert the hearts of terrorists.
(Regina Coeli, Saint Peter’s Square, May 28, 2017
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