On Sunday, Pope Francis canonized seven saints, including Brother Salomon Leclercq, who was beheaded by the anticlerical revolutionary forces during the French Revolution in the 18th century.
Beginning in 1789, the French Revolution overthrew the monarchy and then attacked the Catholic Church. Soon after, the French state took complete control over the Church through the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, requiring priests and religious to take an oath to support the constitution if they wished to continue their ministry.
In August 1792, the Legislative Assembly closed all Catholic schools in Paris and forbade the wearing of religious habits or vestments in public. That same month, the Assembly suppressed all Catholic institutions and religious orders. Priests who refused to swear the oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy were forced to leave the country or face the consequences. Some 25,000 priests left.
When the revolutionaries threatened the community of the La Salle Christian Brothers, most of the Brothers refused to sign the oath and almost all fled to escape persecution. Brother Leclercq stayed behind, however, and was arrested on August 15, 1792.
Leclercq was taken to an old Carmelite monastery that had been converted to a prison, and two weeks later, he was beheaded after he refused to take an oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which worked independently from the Church and the pope. His martyrdom, along with those of nearly 200 others, took place during the September Massacres of 1792.
Br. Robert Schieler, the Superior of the Institute of Brothers of the Christian Schools, said that the canonization was an honor for the order but also a reminder that Christians of any age may be called to be martyrs and give their lives for the faith.
Speaking of Leclercq, Br. Schieler said that, like many others, he could have escaped death but chose not to.
“He could have easily, like others at that time, taken the oath of the Constitution of the French Revolution and he would have been spared, Schieler said. “But he made a life commitment, as a young man, and he was willing to die for the faith and for that commitment.”
On Sunday, Saint Salomon Leclercq became the 160th saint from this congregation, and the Brother Superior says that the 4,000 teaching brothers who belong to the congregation look to the new saint as a sign and a witness to remain strong in the faith in times of trial.
In the face of ongoing Christian persecution, Pope Francis has insisted that there are more martyrs in the world today than in the first centuries of Christianity.
Calling attention to the plight of persecuted Christians throughout the world, Pope Francis has decried violence against Christians and exhorted the international community not to stand by without taking meaningful action.
Everyone is called to “concrete participation, and tangible help in the defense and protection of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted, exiled, killed, and beheaded just for being Christians,” Francis said to the crowd of tens of thousands last year.
“They are our martyrs of today, and there are so many, we can say that they are more numerous than in the first centuries,” he said.
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