Pope Francis underscored the travails of persecuted Christians around the globe Friday, declaring that the Church is living a new period of martyrdom.
We are experiencing “a new age of martyrs,” the pope told members of the Roman Curia in his yearly Christmas address to them. “It seems that the cruel and vicious persecution of the Roman Empire has not yet ended.”
“A new Nero is always being born to oppress believers solely because of their faith in Christ,” he said.
Nero was the tyrannical Roman emperor who reigned from 54 to 68 AD and began the systematic persecution of Christians. The historians Pliny the Elder and Suetonius wrote that Nero was responsible for starting the great fire of Rome in order to clear space to build his Golden House, and Tacitus added that Nero accused the Christians of starting the fire to deflect suspicion from himself. As a result, many Christians were arrested and executed by being thrown to the beasts, crucified, or burned alive.
Both Saint Peter and Saint Paul are believed to have been martyred under Nero’s reign.
In his address Friday, the pope said that new “extremist groups spring up and target churches, places of worship, ministers and members of the faithful,” likely in reference to ongoing, targeted attacks from the Islamic State and other Muslim extremists.
“Cabals and cliques new and old live by feeding on hatred and hostility to Christ, the Church and believers,” Francis said. “How many Christians even now bear the burden of persecution, marginalization, discrimination and injustice throughout our world.”
Christian martyrs, on the other hand, “continue courageously to embrace death rather than deny Christ,” he said. “How difficult it is, even today, freely to practice the faith in all those parts of the world where religious freedom and freedom of conscience do not exist.”
The pope praised what he called the “heroic example of the martyrs.”
As Breitbart News reported, just last week a Pakistani court sentenced two Christians in Punjab to death for the crime of blasphemy.
The two brothers, Qaisar and Amoon Ayub, were accused of posting material offensive to Islam on their website, and on December 13, Judge Javed Iqbal Bosal heard the case and declared the brothers guilty, sentencing them to death.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under President Xi Jinping, has been tightening its grip on religious activities, demolishing crosses, closing churches, and harassing believers.
In testimony at a U.S. Congressional hearing in Washington in late September, China Aid founder Bob Fu compared Chinese persecution under President Xi to the days of Mao Zedong.
“The CCP’s policies and principles for the management of religious affairs are returning to those evident in Mao’s era,” Fu said.
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