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Tuesday, April 8, 2008


VATICAN CITY, 8 APR 2008 (VIS) - Yesterday afternoon, the Holy Father visited the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Rome's Isola Tiberina to mark the 40th anniversary of the foundation of the Sant'Egidio Community. At the basilica he presided at a celebration of the Word in memory of witnesses of the faith in the 20th and 21st centuries.

  "In this place", said the Pope in his address, "we ask ourselves why did these our martyr brothers and sisters not seek at all costs to save the irreplaceable benefit of life? Why did they continue to serve the Church despite threats and intimidation?"

  In this place, he went on, "we hear resound the eloquent testimony of those who, not only during the 20th century but since the dawn of the Church, ... have offered their lives to Christ in martyrdom" and "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb".

  This quote from the Book of Revelation, said the Holy Father, explains the reasons for martyrdom. The "coded language" of St. John "contains a precise reference to the white flame of love which made Christ spill His blood for us. By virtue of that blood we have been purified. Sustained by that flame the martyrs also spilt their blood and were purified in love".

  Benedict XVI then went on to recall Christ's phrase: "No-one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends", and he added: "All witnesses of the faith experience this 'greater love'", conforming themselves to Christ and "accepting the extreme sacrifice without placing limits on the gift of love and the service of faith.

  "Pausing before the six altars which recall Christians who died under the totalitarian violence of Communism, of Nazism, those killed in America, in Asia and Oceania, in Spain and Mexico, and in Africa, we ideally follow many painful events of last century. Many fell as they performed the evangelising mission of the Church: their blood mixed with that of native Christians to whom the faith had been communicated.

  "Others, often minorities, were killed in hatred for the faith. Finally, no small numbers sacrificed themselves so as not to abandon the needy, the poor, the faithful entrusted to their care, not fearing threats and dangers. ... These, our brothers and sisters in the faith, are like a great fresco of Christian humanity in the 20th century, a fresco of Beatitudes, which they lived even unto the shedding of blood".

  "It is true that violence, totalitarianism, persecution and mindless brutality appear to be stronger and to silence the voice of witnesses of faith, who may seem as the losers of history in human terms. But the risen Christ illuminates their witness and thus we understand the meaning of martyrdom. ... The blood of martyrs is the seed of new Christians. In the defeat and humiliation of those who suffer because of the Gospel is a power which the world does not know. ... It is the power of love, unarmed and victorious ".

  The Holy Father proceeded: "This 21st century also began under the sign of martyrdom. When Christians truly are leaven, light and salt of the earth they too become, as Jesus did, objects of persecution" and "signs of contradiction. Fraternal coexistence, love, faith, and choices in favour of the smallest and the weakest ... sometimes provoke violent aversion. How useful it is, then, to look to the shining witness of those who have gone before under the sign of heroic faithfulness, even unto martyrdom".

  Benedict XVI concluded his homily by inviting the members of the Sant'Egidio Community to imitate "the courage and perseverance" of martyrs "in serving the Gospel, especially among the poor. Be architects of peace and reconciliation between enemies and those who fight one another".

  After the celebration, the Holy Father went outside to greet people who had followed the ceremony from the square in front of the basilica.

  "The Word of God, love for the Church, preference for the poor and communication of the Gospel", he told members of the Sant'Egidio Community, "have been the stars that guided you as you, under different skies, testified to the one message of Christ".

  After giving thanks for the "apostolic work, ... the concern for the weakest and the search for peace that distinguish your community", Benedict XVI encouraged them "not to fear the difficulties and suffering this missionary activity brings, they are part of the 'logic' of courageous witness of Christian love".
BXVI-VISIT/.../ISOLA TIBERINA:SANT'EGIDIO            VIS 20080408 (760)

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