Men in orange jumpsuits purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State militants kneel in front of armed men along a beach said to be near Tripoli, Libya, in this still image from an undated video made available on social media Feb. 15. The video is said to show the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya. CNS photo/Courtesy of Reuters

Martyrs are witnesses of faith, not just victims of genocide, Pope says

  • June 20, 2016

VATICAN CITY – Using the word "genocide" to describe the persecution of Christians in the Middle East risks downplaying the courage and witness of those who boldly profess faith in Jesus Christ even in the face of death, Pope Francis said.

"I want to say clearly that I do not like it when people speak of a 'genocide of Christians,' for example in the Middle East," the Pope said, responding to questions June 18. Calling the persecution "genocide," he said, is using a juridical and sociological category to speak of "something which is a mystery of the faith: martyrdom."

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said Pope Francis "was not speaking about the use of the term 'genocide' on a political level, but on a level of faith. When applied to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the dimension of faith is essential," particularly when victims are murdered for not renouncing faith in Christ.

Pope Francis spent more than an hour responding to questions during an afternoon visit to Rome's Villa Nazareth, a residence for university students and headquarters of a foundation dedicated to helping gifted students who do not have the financial resources to continue their studies.

Asked how young people can find courage to live their faith, Pope Francis said the Gospel calls Christians to give witness to their faith in Christ and to the reality that he died to redeem sinners "but is alive," working in the lives of individuals and communities.

Martyrdom is the fullest expression of Christian witness, he said. "It's the maximum, heroic."

Recalling the Islamic State's martyrdom of 21 Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach in 2015, Pope Francis said none of them were theologians, "but they were doctors of Christian consistency; they were witnesses of the faith."

Fidelity to Christ and being living witnesses requires sacrifice, though usually not to the point of death, he said. It requires many little acts of martyrdom, "the martyrdom of honesty, the martyrdom of patience, of raising your children, of fidelity in love when it's easier to take another path."

"We are sinners who Jesus loves and has healed, or who are in the process of being healed," the Pope said. Recognizing one's own sinfulness and the unfathomable depths of God's mercy are essential for being an authentic witness.

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