Saturday, August 24, 2013

Saint Bartholomew and the martyrs

Today, Catholics celebrate the feast of the apostle Bartholomew, of whose life we know very little. He is usually identified with the Nathaniel of John’s Gospel. The tradition is that he evangelized the East, even going as far as India, and that he was flayed alive in in Armenia. A graphic painting can be found in the Vatican Museum here.

On an island in the Tiber is a church which is not on the itinerary of many pilgrims or other visitors: the minor basilica of Saint Bartholomew. The church, built on the ruins of a Roman temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of healing, dates back to the tenth century, though it’s a mélange of various architectural styles.

But it was, for me, an important pilgrimage site since it’s the church dedicated to the new martyrs of the twentieth century

Entering the church I was struck by the icon at the front – the icon of the new martyrs where one can discern many twentieth century martyrs – Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant

Icon of the new martyrs

The side altars are dedicated to the martyrs with “relics” of many witnesses who are important for me:

On the altar of the new martyrs of Nazism there is a letter of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter to his family. Franz, an Austrian peasant, refused to serve in Hitler’s arm and was beheaded.

Letter from prison of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter to his wife

On the altar of the new martyrs of Africa is a letter of Dom Christian de Chergé, abbot of the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Atlas in Algeria, who was among those killed by Islamic fundamentalists. Their story is portrayed in one of my favorite movies, Of Gods and Men.

The prayer beads of Father Aleksander Men, killed in Russia, are on the altar of martyrs of Communism, as well as a relic of the Polish preist, Blessed Jerzy Popielusko, who was a chaplain to Solidarity.

Reliquary of Blessed Jerzy Popielusko

On the altar of the new martyrs of the Americas is the missal Archbishop Oscar Romero used at the Mass at which he was martyred.

Altar of the martyrs of the Americas

I prayed and wept in that church, remembering the witness of these and many others who gave their lives for God, for the poor, and for the Truth of the Gospel.

Visiting that church renewed my commitment to my mission here in Honduras. Recalling it today gives me strength to continue – seeking to be of service to those most in need.


Other blog posts on my visit to San Bartolomeo can be found here and here.
My blog on the movie Of Gods and Men can be found here.

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