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Pope Francis sets up commission to identify 21st century martyrs


Pope Francis has set up a commission to identify the 21st century’s “new martyrs”, whom he has defined as Christians of any domination who are killed “simply because they are Christians” 

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Pope Francis has set up a commission to identify the 21st century’s “new martyrs”, whom he has defined as Christians of any domination who are killed “simply because they are Christians”. 

In a letter released by the Vatican, the Pope said that the names of martyrs would represent men and women, ordained and lay, single people and families, and that those chosen would stand alongside those officially recognised as martyrs by the Roman Catholic Church. Their names would be entered in a catalogue of martyrs so that they could be remembered by the whole Christian community. 

Many Christians today were dying for simply attending services; others were martyred for caring for those rejected by society; and others still were silent victims, killed in conflict, the Pope wrote. 

“It is therefore a matter of continuing historical research in order to gather the testimonies of life, up to the shedding of blood, of these sisters and brothers of ours, so that their memory can stand as a treasure cherished by the Christian community. 

“The research will concern not only the Catholic Church, but will extend to all Christian denominations. Even in our times, in which we are witnessing a change of epoch, Christians continue to show, in contexts of great risk, the vitality of baptism that unites us. 

“A not insignificant number, indeed, 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 rejected 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 make it possible to place side by side with the martyrs, officially recognised by the Church, the documented testimonies — and there are many — of these brothers and sisters of ours, within a vast panorama in which the single voice of the martyria of Christians resounds.” 

The Pope said that an “ecumenism of blood” was uniting persecuted Christians of all denominations, and that the 21st-century martyrs would be commemorated with an ecumenical service during the 2025 Jubilee, as had been done in 2000. 

The ten members of the commission include several clergy, among them a Togo-born theology professor at a pontifical university in Rome, and a Vietnam-born Franciscan friar who has worked in the Vatican’s missionary offices. There are two lay academics on the commission, which will be part of the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints. 

In May, the Pope said that 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians beheaded by Islamic State in Libya, in 2015, had been recognised as Catholic martyrs, with their own feast day. 

He made the announcement during an audience with the Coptic Orthodox Pope — a move aimed at forging unity between Catholic and Orthodox Churches. 

“In a world in which it sometimes seems that evil prevails, I am certain that the working up of this catalogue”, the Pope wrote in the letter, “will help believers” to see “the reasons of life and of good” by drawing inspiration from the new martyrs. 

First published on the Church Times website on 14 July 2023. Visit the Church Times news site to subscribe today.

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