20th-Century Martyrs: Heralds of Christian Unity?

Book Documents a Range of People Who Died for Christ

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ROME, JAN. 23, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The witness of Christians who died for Christ gives a boost to the quest for full unity among the followers of Jesus, concludes a book recently published in Italy.



"The testament of the martyrs has not yet been opened," said Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant'Egidio, one of the contributors to "Witnesses of the Spirit: Sanctity and Martyrdom in the 20th Century" ("Testimoni dello Spirito. Santità e Martirio nel Secolo XX"), published by Paoline.

The book tries to "rediscover the ecumenical aspect of martyrdom so often requested by John Paul II," said the coordinator of the work, Natalio Valentini.

The book includes the testimony of sanctity and martyrdom of Edith Stein and Jerzy Popieluszko, both Catholics; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran; and Pavel Florenskij, an Orthodox.

Valentini explained that "to reflect on the lessons of these masters of thought and witnesses of Christ seems to us today of fundamental importance, to understand ever more clearly the link between Christianity and culture, between faith and history."

Sant'Egidio founder Riccardi reminds readers that "the Christian martyrs are not only Catholics but also evangelicals, Anglicans and Orthodox."

"A martyr is not a kamikaze or a suicide," writes Riccardi, a history professor. A martyr "is a man or woman who believes, hopes, works for the poor, for peace, proclaims the Gospel, loves the Church and, faced with the threat of death, continues his work and witness without being intimidated."

Another contributor, Prior Enzo Bianchi of the Bose Community, states that "the suffering of Orthodox, Catholic and evangelical martyrs is a call to unity so that the world will believe."

The book does not use the term "martyr" in the canonical sense, which requires a process involving the Vatican Congregation for Sainthood Causes.

As part of the preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000, John Paul II established a commission for 20th-century martyrs and charged it with preparing "catalogues of martyrs" of the diverse Christian confessions.

In December 2000, the Pope received the list of 13,400 examples of Christians who gave their lives for Christ, beginning Jan. 1, 1900.

It is an enormous work, directed by the commission's president, Bishop Michel Hrynchyshyn, exarch of the Ukrainians of Byzantine rite in France, with the help of 10 experts. The martyrs come from 106 countries.