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Vatican to collect stories of Christian martyrs killed since 2000

Pope Francis at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square on June 28, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, Jul 5, 2023 / 04:02 am (CNA).

The Vatican announced Wednesday the creation of a commission to research and catalog the stories of Christian martyrs from the third millennium.

In a letter published July 5, Pope Francis said he has established the “Commission of New Martyrs — Witnesses of the Faith” within the Dicastery for the Causes of the Saints.

The commission’s task will be to create an archive of the lives of Christian martyrs, both Catholic and non-Catholic, killed in the last quarter century, the pope said.

Pope Francis noted that he is not modifying canon law on the formal recognition of martyrdom in the Catholic Church but wants the testimonies of those killed for being Christian to stand “side by side with the martyrs officially recognized by the Church.”

“As I have said many times,” he wrote, “the martyrs ‘are more numerous in our time than in the early centuries’: they are bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, laypeople and families, who in the different countries of the world, with the gift of their lives, have offered the supreme proof of charity.”

The pope said he created the commission in light of the Church’s 2025 Jubilee Year, which will focus on the theme of hope.

“Hope keeps alive the deep conviction that good is stronger than evil because God in Christ has overcome sin and death,” he said.

Francis also recalled that St. John Paul II had formed a similar commission on new martyrs for the Great Jubilee 2000.

The earlier commission, which received 13,000 testimonies of men and women who gave their lives for Christ in the 20th century, shared some of the stories during an ecumenical prayer service in the Colosseum on May 7, 2000.

Pope Francis said the 2025 Jubilee Year will include a similar event in order to remember what he has called the “ecumenism of blood.”

“Even in our time, 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,” the pope said.

He noted that some Christians, though aware of the danger to their lives, have yet publicly lived their faith and participated in the Sunday liturgy; others have been killed while performing works of charity to the poor; and still others have been “silent victims,” losing their lives in violent upheavals.

“To all of them we owe a great debt and cannot forget them,” he emphasized.

The pope referenced St. John Paul II’s 1994 apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, which said that “everything must be done so that the legacy of the cloud of ‘unknown soldiers of the great cause of God’ is not lost.”

“In a world in which it sometimes seems that evil prevails, I am certain,” he said, “that the elaboration of this catalog, also in the context of the now upcoming Jubilee, will help believers to also read our time in the light of Easter, drawing from the treasure chest of such generous faithfulness to Christ the reasons for life and goodness.”

The new commission is headed by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, and Archbishop Fabio Fabene, secretary of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints.

Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio, is the commission’s vice president and the secretary is Father Marco Gnavi, pastor of the Basilica of St. Mary in Trastevere and secretary of the 2000 commission.

The members are Missionary of Africa Father Dominique Arnauld; Father Kokou Mawuena Ambroise Atakpa; Adorers of the Blood of Christ Superior General Sister Nadia Coppa; Professors Gianni La Bella, Maria Lupi, and Father Roberto Regoli; Conventual Franciscan Father Dinh Anh Nhue Nguyen; Deacon Didier Rance; and Jesuit Superior General Father Arturo Sosa Abascal.

Father Angelo Romano is also a member. Romano is the rector of the Basilica of St. Bartholomew, a shrine in Rome to the new martyrs of the 20th and 21st centuries, and a collaborator of the Sant’Egidio Community.

This story was updated at 6:25 a.m. MDT with the names of the commission members.

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