Go and Evangelise 138: «Africa, land of martyrs».



One of the characteristic elements of the Christian faith is the paradoxical nature of its proposals. The message proclaimed by the Church breaks with the logic of this world, as expressed in the pages of the Gospel: to be great one must become small, to be first one must become last, to be authentically rich one must become poor, or to gain life one must lose it.

This is precisely what is happening in the Catholic Church on the vast African continent: a Church that is alive, enthusiastic, with a diversity of vocations, rooted in doctrinal orthodoxy, persecuted, and martyred. A long history of martyrdom is a paradigmatic example of the latter, with Nigeria and the «Pentecost Sunday massacre» in which 40 Christians were killed during mass by armed extremists. Their deaths add to the more than 52,220 Christians killed in the last fourteen years in that country, according to the report «Christian Martyrs in Nigeria» published by Intersociety. Thus, 90% of the world’s martyrs in 2022 are from Nigeria. However, examples like this are repeated in various countries on the continent: Cameroon, Chad, Kenya, Somalia, or Libya, where we remember the 21 Coptic martyrs killed in 2015.

Fr. Paul Buetubela Balembo, rector of the Kinshasa Catholic Faculties, during the Congress:  «The Martyrs of Asia and Africa» held in 2000 in Rome contended, «The causes of martyrdom in Africa are different, but can be summarized in the novelty of  life brought by the proclamation of the Gospel. The preaching of the Good News always creates a contrast between what was before, and what is after:  adherence to Christianity. This contrast, this clash, is not acceptable to nonbelievers, or to totalitarian and dictatorial powers. The Word of God cannot be proclaimed without taking risks. Thus, the martyr often lives his faith in contexts of hostility and opposition.»

Certainly, many Christians who have been killed have not yet been officially recognized as martyrs; however, their testimony of fidelity is being studied by the Catholic Church. The proliferation of martyrdom in the world, especially in Africa, has prompted Pope Francis to set up a Commission called New Martyrs – Witnesses to the Faith, whose aim is to collect the testimonies of thousands of Christians who, during the first quarter of a century, have demonstrated their fidelity to the faith, even to the point of offering their lives.

How is it possible that in the most plundered continent on the planet, immersed in constant wars, famines that cry out to heaven, persecution of Christians at all levels, millions of slaves who extract the raw materials for our welfare societies, Christian communities with great vitality, with a deep spirituality, with an intense experience of the liturgy and capable of transmitting the faith so seriously as to give their lives as a supreme testimony of love and fidelity to the Lord? The answer was given in the second century by an African named Tertullian, who expressed the feelings of the Christian communities of the time by affirming: «The blood [of the martyrs] is the seed of new Christians».

Because bloody and bloodless martyrdom is the expression of the adulthood of the faith that evangelizes in depth to both locals and strangers.