THE MARTYRDOM OF TODAY (A) - Terence A. Asitibasi
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It is learnt that the real significance of the word ‘martyr’, comes not from the dying but from the witnessing, which the word means in its derivation which entails people who are willing to give up everything, their possessions, their very lives, put a supreme value on the cause or belief for which they sacrifice. It is applied to all sorts of people in the society and the world. For example, the Buddhists who burnt themselves as a protest to communism, the Japanese Kamikaze pilots and the Shiite soldiers in the Iran-Iraq war are all called ‘martyrs’. Nevertheless, this title, which means ‘witness’ has specifically Jewish and Christian meaning.

Martyrdom, dying for the faith, is an incidental extreme to which some have had to go to manifest their belief in Christ. Being a martyr means more than being killed because you are a Christian. A living faith, that exemplifies Christ’s leading throughout and that in spite of difficulties, is required of all Christians.

The concept of “martyrdom” as applied to the Saints and Blessed martyrs should be understood, in conformity with Benedict XIV’s teaching, as “voluntaria mortis perpessio sive tolerantia propter Fidem Christi, vel alium virtutis actum in Deum relatum” (De Servorum Dei beatificatione et Beatorum canonizatione, Prato 1839-1841, book III, chap. 11, 1).

The lengthy bit of Latin at the end, from Benedict XVI’s predecessor Benedict XIV, defines martyrdom as: The voluntary enduring or tolerating of death on account of the Faith of Christ or another act of virtue in reference to God.

An aspect worth mentioning is that, to a Martyr rather than renounce his or her faith, he or she bears witness with extraordinary fortitude to the belief that Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead for our salvation, and to the truths of our Catholic faith. The Church teaches us that, Martyrdom is “the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death.” (#2473). Thus, we witness to the Gospel by living this faith in truth through our actions, deeds and words as we often profess each and every day at mass.

In fact, the piece of work is more or less centered on the African mission, few servants and its growing Church. Perplexity is a state to which it’s an ideal thing to be avoided when discussing on the term martyrdom as a word I should say, as this word differs from one concept to the other. As illustrated above, the concept of martyrdom reminds us of the constant teaching of the Catholic Church.

Recently, on 27 January 2018; Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to promulgate the decrees of beautification of the 19 martyrs of Algeria. Thus, the beatification of “Bishop Pierre Claverie and his 18 companions and companions”.

They are identified and remembered today as servants (brothers) who once lived a life of emulation. An emulation for us all irrespective of one’s origin starting from that small community, village, town, country, and continent. As said in the recent article of Fr. Michel Groiselle M.Afr, “They say that hate is not the right answer to hate, that there is no inevitable spiral of violence. They want to be a step towards forgiveness and peace for all humans, from Algeria but beyond the borders of Algeria.” 

This gives a clear sign of a missionary spirit. To be human to all. Yes, I stand with his words that ‘hate is not the right answer to hate.’ Rather what? Come to think of this, the response is simply LOVE.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.–Matthew 24:9 

A number of scriptural passages such as that cited above attests to the courage of men and women who were willing to die as martyrs rather than renounce their faith or to be faithful to God’s law. Again, consider this:

“Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues,”- Matthew 10:17 

Here Matthew’s community had already been banned from the synagogue. And so, it’s not necessarily missionary preaching but the making of a statement by endurance of persecution. Jesus knew and predicted that all these would be happening to his disciples. When you read further, it is seen that His disciples were been chased from the Synagogue, betrayed by their own relatives, accused and hauled before kings and governors, and put to death for His name (cf. Luke 21:16)

How ready am I to accept humiliation for the sake of my brothers, sisters and the Kingdom of God? Do I expect to be treated differently as He (Jesus) was? How often do we relate with those who persecute us? How long do we frown at them? In the face of opposition, we are encouraged not to be afraid. Indeed, the mission of Christ is the one of conflict and hostility. The happenings of today I would say, is just an excerpt of what happened to the early disciples and apostles.

As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:59-60). It is recorded that, the first Christian martyr after Jesus Himself was St Stephen, stoned to death in Jerusalem for preaching the Gospel. The Christian Martyr here, as he utters a prayer of confidence likewise did he offer a prayer of forgiveness for his enemies too. Brethren, who do we need to forgive in our lives? Who do we need to ask forgiveness from?

After Stephen: St Peter, St Paul, and St James the Apostle were all martyrs, and following them a “great cloud of witnesses”. In the liturgy of the Church, special honour is given to the Virgin Martyrs who are models of both the virtues of chastity and courage. Surely, let us be mindful of the martyrs of the Church, their lives encourages us and give us hope. Many in our society today are undergoing martyrdom daily in their lives. This could either be at our various places of apostolate, community, family, college, workplaces, and mission field.

To be continued…


Ceillier, Jean-Claude. History of the Missionaries of Africa (White-Fathers). Makuyu: Don Bosco Printing Press, 2011.

B. Raymond., F. Joseph, and M. Roland, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. London: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1968.
Published: November 22, 2018.

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