Tag Archives: martyrs

Saints of Korea

We celebrate the feast of the Korean saints Andrew Kim, Paul Chong and companions today. Pope John Paul II called the Korean church unique, because it was founded by laypeople. In the 17th century, when that country was isolated from the rest of the world, some laymen traveling to Peking learned about Christianity from some books they found there and were converted.

They returned to their country and practiced the faith without any priests. The first priests to arrive there were quickly martyred. In the late 18th and 19th century over 10,000 Korean laypeople, husbands and wives and their children, were martyred.

The feast provides a wonderful endorsement of the role of the laity in the church. The earliest Christian martyrs were often bishops and priests, because the governments thought the church could be exterminated or controlled by eliminating its leadership.

This feast  reminds us that laypeople can bring the faith to others and make it grow and endure even through persecution. And they will give their lives for it.

God bless this church, Here’s more about the Korean martyrshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiBQ0XpJ4ew

The First Martyrs of Rome: June 30

June 30th, the day after the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, we remember the Christians  martyred with them in Nero’s persecution in the mid 60s, a persecution that shook the early  church.

It began with an early morning fire that broke out on July 19, 64 in a small shop by the Circus Maximus and spread rapidly to other parts of the city, raging nine days through Rome’s narrow street and alleyways where more than a million people lived in apartment blocks of flimsy wooden construction.

Only two areas escaped the fire; one of them, Trastevere, across the Tiber River, had a large Jewish population.

Nero was at his seaside villa in Anzio and delayed returning to the city. Not a good move for a politician, even an emperor. Angered by his absence,  people wondered if he set the fire himself so he could rebuild the city on grand plans of his own.

To stop the rumors, Nero looked for someone to blame. He chose a group of renegade Jews called Christians, whose reputation was tarnished by incidents years earlier when the Emperor Claudius banished some of them from Rome after rioting occurred in the synagogues over Jesus Christ.

“Nero was the first to rage with Caesar’s sword against this sect,” the early-Christian writer Tertullian wrote. “To suppress the rumor,” the Roman historian Tacitus says, “Nero created scapegoats. He punished with every kind of cruelty the notoriously depraved group known as Christians.”

We don’t know their names,  how long it went on or how many were killed: the Roman historians do not say. Possibly  60,000 Jewish merchants and slaves lived in Rome then; some were followers of Jesus and had broken away from the Jewish community even before Peter and Paul arrived in the city.(cf. The Letter to the Romans)

Following usual procedure, the Roman  authorities seized some and forced them by torture to give the names of others. “First, Nero had some of the members of this sect arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers were condemned — not so much for arson, but for their hatred of the human race. Their deaths were made a farce.” (Tacitus)

The Christians were killed with exceptional cruelty in Nero’s gardens and in public places like the race course on Vatican Hill. “Mockery of every sort accompanied their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.” (Tacitus)

Nero went too far, even for Romans used to barbaric cruelty. “There arose in the people a sense of pity. For it was felt that they (the Christians) were being sacrificed for one man’s brutality rather than to the public interest.” (Tacitus)

How did the Roman Christians react to this absurd, unjust tragedy? They had to ask why God permitted this and did not stop it. Fellow  believers were among those who turned them in.

The Gospel of Mark, written shortly after this tragedy in Rome, was likely written to answer these questions, scholars say. Jesus, innocent and good, experienced death at the hands of wicked men, that gospel insists. He suffered a brutal, absurd death. Mark’s gospel gives  no answer to the question of suffering except to say that God saved his Son from death.

The Gospel of Mark also gives an unsparing account of Peter’s denial of Jesus in his Passion with no excuse for his failure. Jesus was betrayed and abandoned by his own followers.

Finally, the Roman Christians afterwards would surely wonder whether to stay in this city, an evil city like Babylon Should they go to a safer, better place? The Christians remained in the city. Was the “Quo Vadis?” story a story prompted by questions like these ?

The martyrs of Rome strengthen us to stand where we are and do God’s will, inspired by the Passion of Christ.

A video about the persecution is at the beginning of today’s blog.

Here’s a video about Peter’s encounter with Jesus as he flees from the city during this same persecution: “Quo Vadis?”

Here are Stations of the Cross in the gardens of Ss.Giovanni e Paolo in Rome, once the gardens of the Emperor Nero. Were some early Roman martyrs put to death here?

The Martyrs of Daimiel


Wars, especially civil wars, can bring unspeakable violence. The Spanish Civil War in the 1930s is a good example. There were atrocities on both sides. Innocent people were among its victims, and suffered for no reason at all.

The Martyrs of Daimiel, Spanish Passionists from my own community, most of them young students for the priesthood preparing for missionary work in Cuba and Mexico, were killed in 1936. It’s a tragic story, but also a story of God’s grace shining through human evil..

Between July 22nd and October 24th, 1936, twenty-six religious from the Passionist house of studies, Christ of the Light, outside the city of Daimiel, about eighty miles south of Madrid, died at the hands of anti-religious militiamen at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. They were: Niceforo Diez Tejerina, 43, provincial superior, who previously served as a missionary in Mexico and Cuba after being ordained in Chicago, Illinois.; Ildefonso García Nozal, 38; Pedro Largo Redondo, 29; Justiniano Cuestra Redondo, 26; Eufrasio de Celis Santos, 21; Maurilio Macho Rodríguez, 21; Jose EstalayoGarcia, 21; Julio Mediavilla Concejero, 21; Fulgencio Calv Sánchez, 19; Honorino Carraced Ramos, 19; Laurino Proáno Cuestra, 20; Epifanio Sierra Conde, 20; Abilio Ramos Ramos, 19; Anacario Benito Nozal, 30; Felipe Ruiz Fraile, 21; Jose Osés Sainz, 21; Felix Ugalde Irurzun, 21; Jose Maria Ruiz Martinez, 20; Zacarias Fernández Crespo, 19; Pablo Maria Lopez Portillo, 54; Benito Solano Ruiz, 38; Tomas Cuartero Gascón, 21; Jose Maria Cuartero Gascón, 18; German Perez Jiménez, 38; Juan Pedro Bengoa Aranguren, 46; Felipe Valcobado Granado, 62.

Most of those killed were young religious studying for ordination and destined for missionary work in Mexico and Cuba. Others were priests who taught them and brothers who served in the community. Father Niceforo, the provincial, was visiting the community at the time. Militiamen entered the Passionist house on the night of July 21st and ordered the thirty-one religious to leave in one hour. Father Niceforo gathered them in the chapel, gave them absolution, opened the tabernacle and said: “We face our Gethsemane. . . all of us are weak and frightened,but Jesus is with us; he is the strength of the weak. In Gethsemane an angel comforted Jesus; now he himself comforts and strengthens us. . .Very soon we will be with him. . .To die for him is really to live. . . Have courage and help me by your example.”
He then distributed the sacramental hosts to them.

The militiamen ordered the group to the cemetery and told them to flee. At the same time, they alerted companions in the surrounding areas to shoot the religious on sight. The Passionists split into five groups. The first group of nine was captured and shot outside the train station of Carabanchel in Madrid on July 22, 1936 at 11pm. The second group of twelve, Father Niceforo among them, was taken at the station at Manzanares and shot by a firing squad. Father Niceforo and four others died immediately. Seven were taken to a hospital where one later died. Six of them recovered, only to be shot to death later on October 23, 1936.

Three other religious, traveling together, were executed at the train station of Urda (Toledo) on July 25th. Two gave their lives at Carrion de Calatrave on September 25th. Only five of the thirty-one religious were spared.

Numerous eye-witnesses testified afterwards to the brave faith and courage shown by the Daimiel Community in their final moments, especially the signs of forgiveness they gave their executioners. They were beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 1989, who said of them: “None of the religious of the community of Daimiel was involved in political matters. Nonetheless, within the climate of the historical period in which they lived, they were arrested because of the tempest of religious persecution, generously shedding their blood, faithful to their religious way of life, and emulating, in the twentieth century, the heroism of the Church’s first martyrs.” (Homily: October 1, 1989) Today their bodies are interred in the Passionist house at Daimiel.

Their feastday is July 24th. They’re remembered still at their shrine in Daimiel, Spain.

Feast of Charles Lwanga and Companions

 

The martyrdom of St. Charles Lwanga and his twenty one companions in Uganda, Africa in 1885-86 was a decisive factor in the remarkable spread of Christianity in that continent that began in that century. The White Fathers reached that remote part of the world in 1879 and the Catholic missionaries succeeded in converting a number of native Africans, some of whom were servants of King Mwanga, a local Ugandan ruler. In 1885 King Mwanga began to persecute Christians.

Charles Lwanga was in charge of the pages in the king’s court. The king wanted some of the pages as sexual partners. When the Christian pages  refused he threatened them with torture and death.

Led by Charles, they rejected the king’s advances, and so the king summoned them to appear before him and asked if they were going to persist as Christians and deny what he asked. “Till death!” they answered.  “Then put them to death!” the king shouted.

On the road to their execution at Namugonga  three pages died. Many of the bystanders were amazed at the courage and calm of Charles and his companions.  On Ascension Day, 1886, they were wrapped up in mats of reeds and set afire for their faith. The following year an extraordinary number of Ugandans became Christian. The prayer for their feast  praises God for his graces to them:

Father, you have made the blood of martyrs the seed of Christians.

In today’s Office of  Readings, Pope Paul VI says their sacrifice opened a new page in the history of holiness in Africa. They join the 4th century Martyrs of Scilli (whose relics are now in the Passionist church of Saints John and Paul),  Cyprian, Felicity and Perpetua and other Christian martyrs and confessors from the past.  And he adds:

“Nor must we forget those members of the Anglican Church who also died for the name of Christ.” A recognition that holiness is found in other Christian churches too.

“These African martyrs herald the dawn of a new age. If only our minds might be directed not toward persecutions and religious conflicts but toward a rebirth of Christianity and civilisation!”

 

 

The First Christian Martyrs of Rome

The old churches of Rome are wonderful guides to its Christian past. As a student almost 50 years ago I went through them with books like Hertling and Kirschbaum’s The Roman Catacombs and Their Martrys, a book I still keep at hand along with newer ones.

The 5th century church of Saint Peter in Chains is a church I’ve always associated with the First Marytrs of the Church of Rome, a feast we celebrate today, right after the feast of the apostles, Peter and Paul.

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It was built near the Roman Prefecture, where people were dragged in chains to be interrogated, tortured, and made to face Roman justice. The Romans were sticklers for procedure. You had to be tried in court. Many Christians–we are not sure how many–were brought to justice near this church. Those chains above may actually come from the nearby Roman jail.

I wrote about it here , and I have a video you can see here.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “untitled“, posted with vodpod