A Call to Recover Real Sense of "Martyr"

Historian Andrea Riccardi Says the Word Is Much Abused

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 23, 2004 (Zenit.org).- In an age of Muslim suicide attackers and distortion by the secular culture, the Christian sense of the word "martyr" must be recovered, says the founder of the Community of Sant'Egidio.



Andrea Riccardi, who is also a historian, made that observation today during the Vatican presentation of the book "Faith and Martyrdom: The Catholic Eastern Churches in 20th-Century Europe."

Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, attended the presentation held in the Vatican press office.

The volume records the minutes of the Symposium on Contemporary Ecclesiastical History, held in the Vatican from Oct. 22-24, 1998.

"The Christian martyr, in the conscience of Christians, has a specific function; he does not insist on vengeance or claims," said Riccardi, whose Sant'Egidio lay Catholic group is involved in peace initiatives and social services.

"Today, martyr is a word that is abused in our speech," he said. "There is talk of martyrdom in the secular sense. There is talk of martyrdom to refer to Muslim suicides. But the 'sahid,' the suicide 'martyr,' is very different from the Christian martyr."

"The Christian martyr does not commit suicide to kill others," Riccardi noted. "The Christian martyr gives his life so that others will not die, so as not to abandon his own faith, and to support other believers, out of love."

"He does not seek death, but he does not give up his faith or a certain human behavior, even if he has to pay the price of his own life," the historian stressed.

Riccardi, a professor of the history of Christianity and Religions at the III University of Rome, said it is vital that the Church, through appropriate research, not forget the martyrs.

To remember "is not a call to hatred against the persecutors and their heirs. On the contrary, memory is part of the conscience and history of the Church," he added. "To forget is dangerous in the life of the Church."

Thus, Riccardi urged the study of the testimony of Eastern-rite Catholic martyrs of Eastern Europe, in particular, by analyzing police files and Communist institutions.