Pope Francis asks Church to identify 21st-century martyrs slain ‘only because they are Christians’

Pope Francis has set up a special commission tasked with identifying those he calls the “new martyrs” of the 21st century — Christians who have been slain in some cases simply for attending Mass or for helping the poor, the Associated Press reports.

The Vatican on Wednesday released a copy of a letter in which the pope announced the commission will be part of the Holy See’s saint-making office.

“As I have said so many times, martyrs ‘are more numerous in our time than in the first centuries,’” of the Church, Francis wrote in the letter dated Monday. He was referring to the early years of Christianity, when many were slain for refusing to renounce their faith, seen as a threat to Roman imperial rule.

Modern-time martyrs include clergy as well as “lay people and families, who, in various countries of the world, with the gift of their life, offered the supreme proof of charity,’’ Francis wrote.

The martyr initiative is timed to coincide with a church jubilee, or Holy Year, scheduled for 2025 that will draw to Rome “pilgrims of hope,’’ the pontiff noted.

At the pope’s direction, the commission’s members will research cases of non-Catholic Christian martyrs, too.

The commission is tasked with “working up a catalogue of all those who have shed their blood to acknowledge Christ and to give witness to His Gospel,’’ Francis wrote in his letter. ”The martyrs of the Church are witnesses to the hope that derives from faith in Christ and inspires true charity,’’ he said.

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