The greatest strength of the Church today is in the little, persecuted Churches. That was the message of Pope Francis at the morning Mass on Monday, January 30, in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta. At the heart of the Pope’s homily were the martyrs: “Today there are more than in the first ages” – but the media says nothing about them, he continued, because it’s not news. Pope Francis invited us to remember those who suffer martyrdom.
“Without memory there is no hope,” the Pope said, basing his homily on the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. The first Reading of the Mass is an exhortation to remember the whole history of the people of the Lord. The liturgy in these days focuses on the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, which speaks of memory – and first of all, a “memory of docility,” the memory of the docility of so many people, beginning with Abraham, who was obedient, who went out from his own land without knowing where he was going. In particular, the section of Hebrews 11 read in today’s Mass dealt with other memories: the memory of the great works of the Lord, accomplished by Gideon, Barak, Samson, David; “so many people,” the Pope said, “who have done great things in the history of Israel.
Today there are more martyrs than in the first ages: the media says nothing because they're not newsworthy
There is also a third group we remember: the martyrs, “those who have suffered and given their lives, as Jesus did,” who “were stoned, tortured, killed by the sword.” The Church, in fact, is “this people of God,” “sinful but docile,” which “does great things and also bears witness to Jesus Christ, to the point of martyrdom”:
“The martyrs are those that carry the Church forward, they are those who support the Church, who have supported her [in the past] and [who] support her today. And today there are more than in the first centuries. The media doesn’t speak of them because they're not newsworthy, but so many Christians in the world today are blessed because [they are] persecuted, insulted, incarcerated. There are so many imprisoned solely for carrying a cross or for confessing Jesus Christ! This is the glory of the Church, and our support, and also our humiliation: we who have so much, everything seems so easy for us, and if we are lacking something we complain. But let us think of these our brothers and sisters who today, in numbers greater than in the first ages, are suffering martyrdom!”
“I cannot forget,” Pope Francis continued, “the testimony of that priest and that sister in the Cathedral of Tirana [Albania]: years and years of imprisonment, forced labour, humiliations,” for whom human rights did not exist.
The greatest strength of the Church is the small, persecuted Churches
Then the Pope recalled that the greatest strength of the Church of today is in the “little Churches” that are persecuted:
“And we too – it’s also true and just – we are satisfied when we see a great ecclesial act, which has great success, Christians who demonstrate… and this is beautiful! Is this strength? Yes, it’s strength. But the greatest strength of the Church today is in the little Churches, tiny, with few people, persecuted, with their Bishops in prison. This is our glory today, this is our glory and our strength.”
The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians
“A Church without martyrs – I would dare to say – is a church without Jesus,” the Pope said in conclusion. He then invited those present to pray “for our martyrs, who suffer so much… for those Churches that are not free to express themselves: they are our hope.” And the Pope recalled that in the first ages of the Church, an ancient writer said “the blood of Christians, the blood of the martyrs, is the seed of Christians”:
“They, with their martyrdom, their witness, with their suffering, even giving their life, offering their life, sow Christians for the future and in other Churches. Let us offer this Mass for our martyrs, for those who are now suffering, for the Churches that suffer, who do not have liberty. And let us thank the Lord for being present with the strength of the Holy Spirit in these our brothers and sisters who today are bearing witness to Him.”