Pope: ‘More Martyrs in Church Today Than There Were in First Centuries’

By Michael W. Chapman | August 11, 2014 | 2:10pm EDT

Pope Francis. (AP)

(CNSNews.com) – Pope Francis, who has condemned the ongoing persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq by the Islamic State jihadists, recently said, citing the Middle East, that there are “more martyrs in the Church today than there were in the first centuries.”

“There are many martyrs today, in the Church, many persecuted Christians,” said Pope Francis. “Think of the Middle East where Christians must flee persecution, where Christians are killed. Even those Christians who are forced away in an ‘elegant’ way, with ‘white gloves,’ that too is persecution.”

“There are more witnesses, more martyrs in the Church today than there were in the first centuries,” he said. “So, during this Mass, remembering our glorious ancestors, let us think also of our brothers who are persecuted, who suffer and who, with their blood are nurturing the seed of so many little churches that are born. Let us pray for them and for us.”

Pope Francis made his remarks during his homily for the Mass he offered on June 30 at St. Martha’s House, where he resides next to the Vatican and where he receives people who want to attend a Mass offered by the Pope.

Artist depiction of a Christian martyr in Rome.

On that day, June 30, the Catholic Church honors the martyrs of Rome, killed by the order of Emperor Nero in AD 64. Following a massive fire that destroyed large sections of Rome, the Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for the conflagration and ordered them to be killed in Rome and throughout the Empire.

Some of the torture and killing methods included sewing Christians up in animal skins and letting dogs tear them to pieces; crucifixion; burned at the stake; and, hooking Christians to tall poles, pouring hot wax and flammables on them and then lighting them on fire to serve as torches.

Sts. Paul and Peter were martyred under the persecution set by Nero.

In condemning the ongoing attacks against Christians and other religious groups by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), Pope Francis on Sunday said the violence left him “in dismay and disbelief,” and he denounced the reports of "thousands of people, including many Christians, driven from their homes in a brutal manner; children dying of thirst and hunger in their flight; women kidnapped; people massacred; [and] violence of every kind."

"All this gravely offends God and humanity,” Pope Francis said, as reported in The Guardian.  “Hatred is not to be carried in the name of God. War is not to be waged in the name of God."

WARNING, GRAPHIC: To view photos of some of the persecution and murder of Christians and other religious minorities occurring in Iraq, click here.

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