On Monday Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the Vatican with the new Armenian Patriarch, Gregory Peter XX Ghabroyan, and preached once more on the widespread persecution of Christians throughout the world.
The Pope recalled the great persecution “of the Armenian people,” saying that Armenia was the “very first nation to convert to Christianity. It was persecuted just for being Christian.”
And now, Francis said, “in the newspapers, we read with horror of some terrorist groups, who slit the throats of people just because they are Christians.”
“We think of these Egyptian martyrs, recently, on the Libyan coast, who were slaughtered while pronouncing the name of Jesus,” he said.
Drawing inspiration from the Gospel reading of the day, Francis recalled how the Scribes and Pharisees were enraged because Jesus had performed a miracle on the Sabbath and they discussed how to kill him.
The Pope said that in the same way, even today, “perhaps more than in the early days” Christians are “persecuted, killed, driven out and despoiled just for being Christians.”
Pope Francis accused world powers of ignoring the persecution waged against Christians in various parts of the world. “Today many Christians continue to be persecuted, with the complicit silence of many powers that could put an end to it,” he said.
The Pope also encouraged his hearers to be strong and to prepare themselves to face persecution with valor, even to the point of martyrdom.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” Francis said, “there is no Christianity without persecution!”
Francis told them to remember the last of the Beatitudes: “when they persecute you, and revile you, this is the fate of a Christian,” he said. Today “we are facing this Christian destiny. Go on the same path of Jesus.”
May the Lord give us a full understanding, Francis prayed, to know the Mystery of God that is in Christ and enable us to bear the Cross, “the Cross of persecution, the Cross of hatred, the Cross coming from the anger of persecutors,” incited by “the father of evil,” he said. “May the Lord make us feel today in the body of the Church love for our martyrs and also for our vocation to martyrdom.”
“We do not know what will happen here,” Francis said. “We do not know! But may the Lord give us the grace, if one day this persecution happens here, and the courage and the testimony that He gave to all these Christian martyrs and especially the Christians of the Armenian people.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome