Pope Calls Christians to 'Bear Witness,' Even if It Means 'Laying Down One's Life'

Barbara Boland
By Barbara Boland | May 7, 2014 | 1:59 PM EDT

Pope Francis warned the church against being a "school of religion," saying it needs more than "great ideas," "beautiful temples" and "fine museums" - Christians need to "bear witness" - witness that might even include "persecution and death."

The Pope's remarks came during a homily yesterday, where he used the example of the martyrdom of St. Steven to emphasize that the Christian who does not witness his faith in real life becomes sterile, Vatican Radio reported.

"We are not a religion of ideas, of pure theology, beautiful things, of commandments. No, we are a people who follow Jesus Christ and bear witness - who want to bear witness to Jesus Christ - and sometimes this witness leads to laying down our lives."

"Martyrdom is the translation of a Greek word that also means witness," Pope Francis said. And so we can say that for a Christian the path follows in the footsteps of this witness, Christ's footsteps, to bear witness to Him and, many times, this witness ends up in laying down one's life. You cannot understand a Christian without witness."

Pope Francis also quoted one of Church fathers which said: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians." "By their witness, they preach the faith," Francis added. "Witness, be it in everyday life, in difficulties, and even in persecution and death, always bears fruit. The Church is fruitful and a mother when she witnesses to Jesus Christ."

On the other hand, "When the church closes in on itself , when it thinks of itself as a - so to speak - 'school of religion,' with so many great ideas, with many beautiful temples, with many fine museums, with many beautiful things, but does not give witness, it becomes sterile."

Francis exhorted Christians and the church alike to avoid this sterility. And he challenged listeners to ponder their own witness to the faith compared to that of Steven, who was martyred, and the Christians who fled after his death. "Am I a Christian who witnesses to Jesus or are a simple numerary in this sect?"