Asia Bibi, pictured in Paris Feb. 26, 2020, fled Pakistan for the safety of Canada. The Catholic woman spent nearly a decade on death row after she was falsely accused of blasphemy. CNS photo/Thomas Oswald, courtesy Aid to the Church in Need

Asia Bibi exemplifies ‘continuous martyrdom,’ Pope Francis says

  • November 22, 2023

Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Catholic who moved to Canada after several years of imprisonment and a death sentence for blasphemy in her homeland, was cited by Pope Francis as an example of “continuous martyrdom.”

“When God calls an individual, it is always for the good of all,” said the Pope at the start of an address Nov. 16 to participants in a Vatican-run conference “The Communal Dimension of Sanctity.”

In his speech, Pope Francis discussed three important aspects of holiness — its power to unify, its place in the family and martyrdom.

Martyrdom, Pope Francis said, is a “powerful model” of saintliness, of which “we have many examples throughout the history of the Church.”

“There is no period which has been devoid of martyrs,” he stressed, “including our own day.

“We think that these martyrs do not exist, but let us think about a case of Christian life lived in continuous martyrdom, the case of Asia Bibi.”

Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic sentenced to death for blasphemy, was imprisoned for many years, eventually being released and moving to Canada. 

“Nearly nine years of Christian witness,” Pope Francis underlined. “There are many, many like her, who testify to faith and charity.”

Holiness, Pope Francis stressed, is a vocation “which is fulfilled first and foremost in charity.” It thus “unites us with our brothers and sisters, and so is not merely a personal event, but a community one.”

“When God calls an individual,” the Pope noted, “it is always for the good of all, as in the case of Abraham and Moses, Peter and Paul.”

The only legitimate response to Jesus’ love, he said, is to immediately desire to share it with others, “like Matthew, who, as soon as Jesus calls him, invites his friends to meet the Messiah,” or Paul, who, “having met the Risen One, becomes the apostle to the nations.”

The final subject of Pope Francis’ address was holiness as it occurs in families.

Although this sort of saintliness is “evident above all in the Holy Family of Nazareth,” the Pope said, “the Church offers us many other examples,” in particular “holy couples, in which each of the spouses was an instrument of salvation of the other.”

The holiness of a married couple, Pope Francis stressed, is not simply the sum total of the sanctity of each individual; rather, each one’s holiness contributes to multiplying that of their partner.

As an example of this sort of holiness, Pope Francis presented the Polish couple Josef and Wiktoria Ulma and their seven children. They attempted to save Jewish families from the Nazis by hiding them in their home but were eventually caught and killed.

This Polish family that was beatified earlier this year, Pope Francis said, “reminds us that sanctification is a community journey, to be made in pairs, not alone. Always in community.”

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