Topic: Martyrdom

Br. Kevin Andrew, O.P.'s picture

Freedom for Witness

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We recently celebrated the final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Solemnity of Christ the King. On this day the readings focus on the freedom that we have been given in Christ. I examine this freedom as it is expressed in the second reading (Revelation 1:5-8), and what this freedom means for us today.

Br. Ambrose Sigman, O.P.'s picture

Blessed Anthony Neyrot

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Very soon now, April 10th in fact, we Dominicans will celebrate one of the more unusual blesseds on our calendar, Blessed Anthony Neyrot (d. 1460). Bl. Anthony was the only Dominican blessed ever to renounce his faith, and yet in the end return to the faith and die a martyr’s death. Bl. Anthony is a reminder to us that nothing is lost which cannot be found again, and no one can stray so far that the Good Shepherd cannot bring him or her home.

Not much is known about the youth of Bl. Anthony, only that he was from Rivoli in Italy. He was received into the Order by the great Dominican, Saint Antoninus. After his studies and ordination, Anthony was assigned to the convent of San Marco in Florence. Being somewhat wayward and impatient, Anthony quickly grew tired of this and asked for a change of scenery. He was sent first to Sicily, about which he was not thrilled, and then to Naples. While sailing to Naples, Anthony’s ship was captured by pirates, and he and the other passengers were taken to the city of Tunis in North Africa.

 At first, Anthony was well-liked by the emir in Tunis and was allowed a measure of freedom. His continuing arrogance, though, quickly brought the wrath of his captors and Anthony was put in prison and given only bread and water. Anthony eventually gave in, denying his faith in order to obtain his freedom. Anthony quickly embraced his new faith, even going so far as to attempt a translation of the Qur’an. Soon, he was adopted by the emir and married a high-born Turkish lady.

 Anthony’s newfound complacency, though, was quickly shattered. Into his life came the news that his beloved teacher and mentor, Saint Antoninus, had died. Love for his old master stirred in Anthony’s heart a desire for the Truth which he had abandoned. He resolved very quickly to return to the Christian faith. Anthony decided to make his return publicly. In private, he confessed and was reconciled to God. Then, during one of the emir’s public processions, Anthony appeared on the palace steps wearing again his Dominican habit, and proclaiming his faith in a loud voice, and his sorrow at ever having abandoned it. Failing to change Anthony’s mind, the emir ordered his death. Anthony died under a shower of stones, proclaiming his faith and his sorrow on Holy Thursday, 1460. His body was eventually returned to Rivoli, where it still rests.

 Holy Mary, Searcher for the Lost, pray for us.

 Blessed Anthony Neyrot, pray for us.

Br. Boniface Willard, O.P.'s picture

Of Gods and Men

Yesterday, a few of us went to see the film, Des hommes et des dieux, the story of the Trappist monks of the monastery of Our Lady of Atlas in Tibhirine, Algeria. The movie has beautiful cinematography and is simply filmed. The monks are shown living out their religious vocation in the midst of the people they had come to serve, with the threat of violence increasingly present. For us, much of what we watched seemed to be true to life, our life as religious, which gave rise to a certain amount of laughter and amusement on our part – even though nobody else in the theatre laughed. But the most moving part of the movie for me was watching how the monks came through doubt and agony to make their decision to stay in that place, knowing that their death was an ever greater possibility with the passing of every day.

The years 1991-96 were a period of protracted conflict between the government and Islamisists in which more than 50,000 people died. Many Christians, most of whom were European or of European descent, having been born in Algeria, were caught up in the conflict and murdered, both for their ethnicity and for their fidelity to the faith and their vocations. In addition to these seven monks, many other religious and the Dominican bishop of Oran were likewise assassinated. It could be argued, and has by some, that many of these religious were simply caught up in the political conflict and so were merely victims of a brutal contest for power. Yet what is abundantly clear from the movie, from the homilies and writings of people like the bishop of Oran, is that they stayed knowing that they might die because it was their vocation to stay with those they had come to serve and who were likewise suffering in the midst of the conflict. They understood it as fidelity to their mission and their vocation, as standing at the foot of the cross with Christ.

In this way, they gave witness to the love of God for all and to that beautiful passage from the Gospel of John, “There is no greater love than this, to give one’s life for one’s friend.” It was not an easy decision for them. Sometimes, hagiography, the story of a saint’s life, might incline us to think that when martyrdom came, it was over in an instant or it was greeted with supernatural joy. In the movie, the monks agonize over their decision to stay. Is it what Christ wants of them? Is it empty heroics? At one point, a woman in the village tells them that they the monks are the branch upon which the birds, the people, rest. And so, for a variety of reasons, but all recognizing it as the call of Christ to become more like him, they decide to stay. Later, a Muslim poet said of them, "They stayed and we asked why. There was no answer. It was a long fidelity."

In this sense, then, they seem to be martyrs: in that through their lives and their great love for the people, they lived out the Gospel message until death overtook them and so were conformed to Christ in his passion and cross.