28-April-2000 -- Vatican Information Service |

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VATICAN CITY, APR 28, 2000 (VIS) - This morning in the Holy See Press Office, there was the presentation of the Jubilee Day dedicated to the commemoration of the witnesses to the faith in the 20th century. This day marking the "new martyrs" will take place on May 7 at the Colosseum, according to Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

Recalling that Pope John Paul asked for this commemoration in "Tertio Millennio Adveniente" in November 1994, the cardinal said that May 7 "is the date which will allow the Church to become better aware of her true identity: the Church of witnesses, the Church of martyrs." He added that "sometimes we have an idea of martyrdom which is too romantic and reduced to extraordinary stories which open the door to canonization, while this should be the habitual horizon in every Christian life."

Who are the new martyrs? Cardinal Etchegaray asked. "They are those who are persecuted by a clear hatred for Christ and His church, ... (or) who are victims of new Caesars. ... Today the seed of martyrdom is often found in the Church's alliance with the poor, the excluded, the oppressed."

The cardinal observed that May 7 will be a day in which to show a "greater solidarity" with those who suffer to witness to their faith," and pointed out that Pope John Paul has asked that this solidarity include other Christian denominations.

Archbishop Cresenzio Sepe, secretary general of the Jubilee committee, said that "the 'memory of martyrs' is one of the new emblems - together with others such as the 'purification of memory' and the commitment to reducing foreign debt for peace and for justice - introduced by John Paul II to characterize the Great Jubilee 2000. Consequently, the May 7 celebrations, dedicated to commemorating witnesses to the faith in the 20th century, takes on a particular importance, both within the Holy Year and in the light of the entire Magisterium of John Paul II, who has dedicated all the 22 years of his pontificate to venerating those who have witnessed the truth of the Gospel with their lives."

Bishop Michel Hrynchyshyn, C.SS.R., president of the Jubilee Commission "Witnesses to the Faith of the 20th Century," stated that "the Holy Father has charged the 'new martyrs' commission with the noble task of preparing lists, or rather catalogues, of witnesses to the faith in the 20th century. Given that Christians have been persecuted and killed for their faith 'to the limits of the earth,' the commission has set about organizing its task on a geographical and continental basis."

"Estimates of the numbers of martyrs vary greatly," continued the bishop from Ukraine. "Indeed David Barret, an independent scholar, in his 'Encyclopedia of the Christian World,' suggests that the 20th century has produced double the number of Christian martyrs of all the previous 19 centuries put together."

Historian Andrea Riccardi pointed out that "John Paul II, with his call to rediscover the memory of witnesses to the faith, has started a process that is not yet finished. The Pope experienced first-hand the events of World War II, when the new Nazi order imposed on the Polish people the role of nation of slaves. He lived through the years of communist persecution. His experience of the suffering of confessors and witnesses to the faith has been personal and direct."

Bishop Piero Marini, papal master of ceremonies, stated that "the ecumenical Commemoration of Witnesses to the Faith in the 20th century, to be held on Sunday, May 7 ... is linked to the Holy Father's statement in the Apostolic Letter 'Tertio Millennio Adveniente: 'In our own century the martyrs have returned, many of them nameless 'unknown soldiers' as it were, of God's great cause. As far as possible their witness should not be lost to the Church. ... This gesture cannot fail to have an ecumenical character and expression, Perhaps the most convincing form of ecumenism is the ecumenism of the saints and martyrs. The 'communio sanctorum' speaks louder than the things which divide us'."

He explained that the commemoration "takes place at Evening Prayer of the Third Week of Easter; it thus falls in the Easter season and in particular on the Lord's Day when the Church celebrates the victory of the Risen Christ over sin and death. ... The site chosen for the commemoration is the Colosseum which, together with the other places nearby, like the Circus Maximus, calls to mind the witness of faith given by the early martyrs of the Church in Rome."

Turning to the ceremonial aspect of the commemoration, Bishop Marini said that "the initial rites include a 'statio' inside the Colosseum, the procession to the area outside the amphitheater, the Holy Father's introduction and the opening prayer. ... An invocation of praise to the Holy Trinity follows, recited by the representatives of the Churches and ecclesial communities."

This is followed by a procession with the Cross and Gospel Book, the enthronement and incensing of the Gospel, the Holy Father's opening prayer and the Liturgy of the Word. The Apostles' Creed is recited in three different languages by three representatives of other Churches.

There will then be the specific commemoration of the witnesses to the faith in the 20th century which will include the following groups: Christians who bore witness to their faith under Soviet totalitarianism; witnesses to the faith who were victims of communism in other nations of Europe; confessors of the faith who were victims of nazism and fascism; followers of Christ who gave their lives for the proclamation of the Gospel in Asia and Oceania; Christian faithful persecuted out of hatred for the Catholic faith; witnesses of evangelization in Africa and Madagascar; Christians who gave their lives for love of Christ and of their brothers and sisters in America and witnesses to the faith in different parts of the world.

The final blessing and dismissal follow these witnesses.

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