March 31, 2015 // Local

Prayer vigil recalls witness of recent Christian martyrs

Members of the Community of Sant’Egidio are shown at the memorial prayer vigil for Christian martyrs at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend. Members of the group, from left, are Shawn Storer, John Kurdelak, Brian Lee, Dan Philpott, Angela Philpott, Beth Lee, Maria Surat, Lisa Anderson, and Richard LaSalvia. The Community of Sant’Egidio, with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, organized the ecumenical prayer vigil on the evening of Palm Sunday, March 29.

By Chris Lushis

SOUTH BEND — Addressing those in attendance for a memorial prayer vigil at St. Matthew Cathedral on March 29, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades reminded that “it is appropriate as we begin Holy Week to remember in prayer those who are the greatest witnesses to Our Lord’s self-giving love, witnesses to His suffering and death in the most vivid and radical manner: the Christian martyrs.”

The prayer service, which was led by local members of the Community of Sant’Egidio, called attention to the countless men, women, and children who have died or been killed in recent years for their faith and devotion to Jesus Christ.

Remembering the memory of Christians who have been martyred throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the vigil focused special attention on each continent and specific countries, individuals, and occurrences of martyrdom, including those killed in recent months by ISIS. Prayerful hymns of petition for healing and peace were also sung throughout the memorial, following the same pattern and format each Sant’Egidio community prays throughout the world.

During his homily, Bishop Rhoades invoked the words of Pope Francis, “who reminds us of how in many ways, we are asked to compromise our faith, to water down the radical demands of the Gospel and to conform to the spirit of this age. Yet the martyrs call out to us to put Christ first and to see all else in this world in relation to Jesus and His eternal Kingdom. The martyrs challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for.”

He continued, “The martyrs teach us by the purity of their witness to Christ the importance of love, of charity, in our lives of faith. Like Jesus, they loved to the end.  They knew the cost of discipleship and witnessed to the power of God’s love, a love that is victorious. They teach us to love God and our neighbor, to love one another as Jesus has loved us. In a world in which our faith is so often challenged, the martyrs teach us to put Christ first in our lives.”

Encouraging the importance of living with a spirit of self-sacrifice, he recalled the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who will soon be beatified as martyr, stating, “We must be ready to die for our faith, even if the Lord does not grant us this honor. … Giving one’s life does not only mean being killed; giving one’s life, having the spirit of a martyr, is in giving in duty, in silence, in prayer, in honest fulfillment of his duty; in that silence of daily life; giving one’s life little by little.”

Bishop Rhoades further stressed the importance of “remembering in prayer all Christian martyrs: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant. Pope Francis has spoken of how the blood of many Christians has become the seed of unity. The ecumenism of blood is a powerful call to journey along the road of reconciliation among the churches, with decision and with trusting abandonment to the action of the Holy Spirit.”

Seminarian Bob Garrow carries palms, which were placed in front of the Christian martyrs icon, during the Prayer Vigil for Christian Martyrs on March 29 at St. Matthew Cathedral. Hymns were sung and palms were placed before the icon, after the names of martyrs from each continent were named.

Afterward the vigil, Richard LaSalvia, local coordinator for the Community of Sant’Egidio, warmly shared his gratefulness to Bishop Rhoades for presiding at the prayer service and thanked him for “reminding all of us in the diocese about how Christians in the world, especially those in the Middle East are persecuted for their faith and how we must continue to pray for them. The community is looking forward to making this prayer service an annual event in the diocese.”

Many others in attendance also expressed appreciation for both the prayer vigil and Bishop Rhoades’ emphasis on living the Gospel with wholehearted commitment and love.

Sharing how the service touched her, Caroline Cole, a parishioner of St. Matthew, said, “You often hear about the 20th century martyrs, but to listen to their names and focus on each country and pray for their intercession, their witness, and their example is very beautiful. Especially during Holy Week, it is beautiful to think about the passion and all of the modern martyrs. The passion extends here today and we see how Christ continues to suffer through his people.”

Dr. Michael Griffin, professor of Theology at Holy Cross College, remarked, “In recent years, a lot of us Catholics who have small children have begun to be part of the Community of Sant’Egidio, so it serves as a way of helping our kids to see this mission to the margins, and that part of the life of the Church is to combine beautiful worship with tender mercy and charity to others. In this prayer for the martyrs, you witness this beautiful liturgy honoring the tender mercy of those who gave their lives for the Gospel.”  The bishop’s focus on self-sacrifice also impacted Shawn Sullivan, founder of The Life Center in South Bend, who said, “It is marvelous to shine light on martyrdom, on what the Christian life is really supposed to be about. This is so appropriate as a reminder of how we are supposed to live, by giving up our lives and refusing to water down our faith to a less radical response to the Gospel.”

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