The Age of the Martyrs

The Age of the Martyrs

  • Today in Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
  • Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
  • 9 February 2020

During the seasons of Christmas and Easter, it is typically the Roman Canon that is prayed during Holy Mass. This of the first of the several Eucharistic prayers, and is the only one which contains the litany of saints. Each saint is named in their order of importance, beginning with Mary, the Mother of God, then Joseph her spouse and the Apostles and Martyrs. As the name implies, the Roman Canon comes to us from the Church at Rome and dates from the time of the Apostles Peter and Paul. The names of the saints specifically include some of the early martyrs who witnessed to the Faith with their own blood. Their deaths had an enormous impact on the formation of the Church in the first three hundred years and we still remember them to this day. It is important that we do so. But it is equally important that we also remember the martyrs of our own time. These are the ones who are sacrificing their lives in numbers that rival and even surpass the martyrs of the first three hundred years of our history. It is not an exaggeration to recognize the reality that we have embarked upon a new Age of Martyrs.


It is difficult to glean from the secular press any reports of Christian persecution and it helps to have some information from those who have actually experienced it in Africa and other parts of the world. My personal friendship with Fr. Hilary Okeke and Fr. Brendan Mbagwu has assisted in my own education with regard to the martyrdoms in Nigeria. Even the Catholic Press has not emphasized the extent of Christian persecution, but the February 2ndedition of theNational Catholic Registerhas published an article by Nina Shea outlining some of the Christian persecutions that have taken place in Africa over the last decade. As the director for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, she has reported that “An ongoing Islamic extremist project to exterminate Christians in sub-Saharan Africa is even more brutal and more consequential for the Church than it is in the Middle East, the place where Christians suffered ISIS genocide, as the U.S. government officially designated. A growing number of these African countries are seeing the rise of ISIS and al-Qaida affiliates, and non-state terrorists like them, who specifically target Christians in their quest to establish Islamist rule. The 631 million Christians in Africa now outnumber those in Latin America.


No place in sub-Sahara is more notorious for religious hostility against Christians than Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. Over the last decade, more Christians have been deliberately murdered by Islamic extremists in Nigeria’s northern and central belts than in all the Middle East combined. The day after Christmas, Boko Haram’s ISIS faction released a film by its news agency Amaq, a 56-second video that showed black-clad militants beheading 10 blindfolded Christian men and shooting another said to be a Muslim.


The U.N. reports that 2 million Nigerians have fled their homes into camps because of the terror. Not all are Christians, but the photos of abandoned and ruined churches from north and central Nigeria give mute testimony to what is taking place there to the Christian community. Between 2009 and 2017, Boko Haram bombed and attacked 900 churches, some of which were filled with worshippers.”


Our brothers and sisters in Africa need our prayers and our help. The blood of the martyrs from another young Church is offering witness to the Faith that many of us have taken for granted. This new Age of Martyrs is even more acute than we experienced under the persecutions of another empire many centuries ago. We have the assurance that Christianity will ultimately triumph, but we also have the experience that the Kingdom of God must be defended like any other kingdom.