Just Gospel: Pope’s Intention for Those Who Risk Their Lives for the Gospel

Sister JulieAnn Sheahan

March 17, 2024

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ March Prayer Intention that “those who risk their lives for the Gospel in various parts of the world inflame the Church with their courage and missionary enthusiasm.”  ‘ The ‘Just Gospel’ blog post each month reflects on Pope Francis’ Prayer Intention and includes any other specific focus of our religious community for the year.

During these days of March, we find special days and times to recall and celebrate the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. As we know so well, Jesus’ suffering did not end on Calvary over 2000 years ago. He still suffers in His Body, the Church. Pope Francis calls this to mind in his intention for the month. He asks us to pray that those who risk their lives for the Gospel in various parts of the world inflame the Church with their courage and missionary enthusiasm. This intention gives us an opportunity to consider the reality of present-day martyrdom not just for Catholics, but for many Christian believers. Pope Francis recalled in his September 25, 2019, General Audience, There are more martyrs today than there were at the beginning of the life of the Church, Martyrs are everywhere. He went on to cite the Church Father Tertullian, who wrote, The blood of Christians is seed, and ensures the growth and fruitfulness of the People of God. (Photo: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5b/Pedro_Calungsod_stained_glass_%28cropped%29.jpg/638px-Pedro_Calungsod_stained_glass_%28cropped%29.jpg?20231203101457)

The sacrifice of martyrs calls down grace which benefits the Church. One manifestation of such grace lies in the fact that the witness of martyrs convinces non-believers and inspires believers. Some statistics from Nigeria certainly bear out this point. 94% of self-identified Catholics surveyed said they attend weekly or daily Mass while 89% of Christians killed throughout the world are located in Nigeria. The blood of the faithful seems to be growing the faith.

Middle Eastern and Asian nations were also the site of many martyrdoms throughout the 21st century. At a Eucharistic Congress in Italy before he died in 2007, Iraqi priest Father Ragheed Ganni said, “When I hold the Host in my hands, it is really he who is holding me and all of us, challenging the terrorists and keeping us united in his boundless love.”

The iconic 21st century martyrdom might be the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded on video by ISIS in Libya in 2015. They were migrant workers from an Egyptian village and were very poor. Mathew Ayairga, a Black man from Chad killed with the group, was reportedly not a Christian. Yet, when he was asked Do you reject Christ? He indicated the beheaded men around him and said, “Their God is my God,” and so he was killed, too. His story is the story of what happens when martyrs witnesses to Christ. Their faith attracts others. We all need to repeat his words again and again: “Their God is my God. Their faith is my faith; their hope is my hope.”

Religious freedom is shrinking globally, according to a report from the watchdog group Open Doors. They found that the persecution of Christians is at its highest point in three decades and that some of the worst locations for Christians were North Korea, Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, and India. Below are four prime examples of countries where Christians faced vicious persecution in 2023 as reported by Tyler Arnold for the Catholic News Agency.

Over the Christmas weekend, nearly 200 Christians were killed in a terrorist attack in the Nigerian state of Plateau. Just three months prior terrorists kidnapped a Protestant pastor and more than 80 other Christians in attacks on two separate churches. More than 5,000 Christians were killed in attacks in Nigeria throughout 2021 and the first three months of 2022, but complete numbers for those killed in 2023 are not yet available.

Preaching Christianity in Libya, particularly encouraging Muslims to convert to Christianity, can still land Christians in jail in Libya and many other Muslim-majority countries. In April, six Libyans, two Americans, and one Pakistani were arrested in Libya for preaching Christianity.

Reports from Mozambique found that Islamic State Fighters have been enslaving Christian women as sex slaves and forcing them to convert to Islam. Terrorists are also killing some who refuse to convert to Islam. 

The dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega has systematically persecuted the Catholic Church by shutting down Catholic schools and Catholic media outlets. The regime has also arrested members of the clergy. Just after Christmas the government arrested four Catholic priests. Altogether, the dictatorship has arrested more than a dozen priests, including Bishop Rolando José Álvarez, who is still imprisoned.

We see that this is a concern near to the heart of Pope Francis. He has created the Commission for New Martyrs: Witnesses of the Faith. In a letter announcing the commission on July 5, he wrote, Martyrs 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. He added that his new committee would try to document not just Catholic martyrs, but those from “all Christian confessions.”

Let us join the Holy Father in praying for those who will be threatened or killed for their faith. Let us ask that their sacrifice and their example of Christ-like forgiveness will truly bear fruit in the growth of faith everywhere. (Photo: Rsk6400, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Article Comments:

Fr. Placid Stroik, OFM 03/18/2024 @ 11:08 pm

and Yet how can I keep from singing. no storm …no martyrdom …. when loud and clear all are singing: their God is our God. there is one God and one faith. love is singing.


Speak Your Mind