"In every age, Christians have suffered for their faith, from the Roman Coliseum to the recent beheadings perpetrated by ISIS. Brave women and men, embracing the cross of Jesus, have gone to their deaths rather than deny their faith, and the blood of these martyrs serves as the 'seed of Christians', enlivening faith in others. Today, the witness of martyrs continues in an especially intense way in the Middle East, where priests are murdered for offering Mass and families are driven from their homes for displaying a cross.
"With this Marian Prayer Program, we honor the martyrs over the centuries as we call particular attention to the suffering of today's Christians ... Featuring the newly commissioned icon of Our Lady Help of Persecuted Christians, the prayer program is the latest in a series of efforts undertaken by the Knights of Columbus to aid those who suffer for their faith. ..."
- from the introduction to the the prayer booklet used that evening
Fr. Bernie Zajdel OFM Conv. presented the following message from Pope John Paul II, his "Message for World Mission Sunday, May 28, 1996."
The identity of the Christian as witness is marked by the unavoidable and distinctive presence of the cross. There can be no authentic witness without it. Indeed, the cross is the necessary condition for all who have firmly decided to follow the Lord. "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23) All the witnesses of God and Christ, beginning with the Apostles, have known persecution because of him. "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you." (John 15:20) This is the legacy which Jesus left to his followers and which each one must accept and incarnate in his own life. Golgotha is the only way to the Resurrection.
The cross, in fact, is the imitation of Christ in faithful witness and patient and persevering daily work. The cross is swimming against the tide, making decisions according to God's commandments despite misunderstanding, unpopularity, marginalization; the cross is the prophetic denunciation of injustice, of trampled freedoms, of violated rights; the cross is having to live where the Church is most opposed, obstructed and persecuted.
For those who persecute religious minorities, that the light of God's truth and mercy may penetrate their hearts, and that they may come to recognize the common humanity of all peoples and cease committing acts of hatred ...
- from the intercessions
How can we fail at this point to think of our brothers and sisters and entire communities which in so many parts of the world offer a splendid witness of a Christian life totally dedicated to Christ and the Church despite being surrounded by persecution and hostility? Every year there are reports of the heroic witness given by new martyrs who shed their blood in order to remain faithful to the Lord. The Church pays homage to their sacrifice. She draws close in prayer and fraternal love to believers who suffer violence, inviting them not to be discouraged or afraid. Christ is with you, dearly beloved brothers and sisters!
Photos by Laurie Soulliere