(Crux) Pope Francis on Tuesday may have untied a theological knot that’s long hobbled efforts to venerate the memory of contemporary victims of anti-Christian persecution, which is this: How do you make somebody who died for their faith a saint, when, technically speaking, he or she wasn’t actually a martyr?
Traditionally, a “martyr” means someone who died for their religious beliefs, the test of which is that they were killed in odium fidei, or “hatred of the faith.” Think early Christians, for instance, put to death for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods or to worship the emperor. In that scenario, the motives of the people killing Christians have to be explicitly religious, not political or economic or anything else.
While there are still plenty of examples of that kind of martyrdom in the 21st century – for instance, Christians in India who die for refusing to take part in “re-conversion” ceremonies to Hinduism, or French Father Jacques Hamel, the 85-year-old priest killed in 2016 by two Muslim men professing loyalty to ISIS – in a large number of other modern cases, the traditional test just doesn’t fit.
An example may help.
In 2011, two Catholic missionaries were killed in Burundi, Croatian Sr. Lukrecija Mamić and Italian layman Francesco Bazzani. The slaying happened during an attempted robbery at the Kiremba convent of the Sisters of Charity in Burundi where Mamić lived, and where Bazzani was serving as a volunteer. Mamić was killed immediately when thieves burst into the convent, while Bazzani and another nun, Sister Carla Brianza, were taken as hostages. Nine miles away they stopped and shot Bazzani to death, while Brianza managed to escape.
From the strictly classical point of view, their deaths, while tragic, would not qualify as “martyrdom.” The robbers attacked the convent because they thought it would have items worth stealing, and Mamić and Bazzani just got in the way. Given the religious demography of Burundi, there’s a good chance the killers themselves were actually Catholic.
Yet the question has to be asked: What were Mamić and Bazzani doing in Burundi in the first place? [More]