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Facing the sword of martyrdom, St Cyprian responds: “Thanks be to God!”

From today’s Office of Readings:

On the morning of the fourteenth of September a great crowd gathered at the Villa Sexti, in accordance with the order of the governor Galerius Maximus. That same day the governor commanded Bishop Cyprian to be brought before him for trial in the court of Sauciolum.

After Cyprian was brought in, the governor asked him: “Are you Thascius Cyprian?”

And the bishop replied: “Yes, I am.”

The governor Galerius Maximus said: “Have you posed as the pontiff of a sacrilegious group?”

The bishop answered: “I have,”

Then the governor said: “Our most venerable emperors have commanded you to perform the religious rites.”

Bishop Cyprian replied: “I will not do so.”

Galerius Maximus said: “Consider your position.”

Cyprian replied: “Follow your orders. In such a just cause there is no need for deliberation.”

Then Galerius Maximus, after consulting with his council, reluctantly issued the following judgment: “You have long lived with your sacrilegious convictions, and you have gathered about yourself many others in a vicious conspiracy. You have set yourself up as an enemy of the gods of Rome and our religious practices. The pious and venerable emperors, the Augusti, Valerian and Gallienus, and Valerian the most noble of Caesars, have been unable to draw you back to the observance of their holy ceremonies. You have been discovered as the author and leader of these heinous crimes, and will consequently be held forth as an example for all those who have follow you in your crime. By your blood the law shall be confirmed.”

Next he read the sentence from a tablet: “It is decided that Thascius Cyprian should die by the sword.”

Cyprian responded: “Thanks be to God!”

After the sentence was passed, a crowd of his fellow Christians said: “We should also be killed with him!”

There arose an uproar among the Christians, and a great mob followed after him. Cyprian was then brought out to the grounds of the Villa Sexti, where, taking off his outer cloak and kneeling on the ground, he fell before the Lord in prayer. He removed his dalmatic and gave it to the deacons, and then stood erect while waiting for the executioner. When the executioner arrived, Cyprian told his friends to give the man twenty-five gold pieces. Cloths and napkins were being spread out in front of him by the brethren. Then the blessed Cyprian covered his eyes with his own hands, but when he was unable to tie the ends of the linen himself, the priest Julian and the sub-deacon Julian fastened them for him.

In this way the blessed Cyprian suffered, and his body was laid out at a nearby place to satisfy the curiosity of the pagans. During the night Cyprian’s body was triumphantly borne away in a procession of Christians who, praying and bearing tapers and torches, carried the body to the cemetery of the governor Macrobius Candidianus which lies on the Mappalian Way near the fish ponds. Not many days later the governor Galerius Maximus died.

The most blessed martyr Cyprian suffered on the fourteenth of September under the emperors Valerian and Gallienus, in the reign of our true Lord Jesus Christ, to whom belong honor and glory for ever. Amen.

From the proconsular Acts of the martyrdom of Saint Cyprian, bishop
(Acta, 3-6: CSEL 3, 112-114)

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St Cyprian, and St Cornelius, pray for us!! 

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The number of persons dying for the Christian faith in the last hundred years is staggering, so said this report from 2002.

In two millennia of Christian history, about 70 million faithful have given their lives for the faith, and of these, 45.5 million — fully 65% — were in the last century, according to “The New Persecuted” (“I Nuovi Perseguitati”).

12 years later, we are seeing an increase in persecutions. Just last year, John L. Allen, Jr. wrote a book, A Global War on Christians, in which he said, this “global war on Christians is in many ways the greatest story never told about the 21st century.” His report, it seems to me now, to be prophetic.

Two months ago, Pope Francis talked about the recent persecutions, especially in the Middle East.

“Today – [Pope Francis said] – we look upon the Church of Rome that grows, fed by the blood of martyrs. So it is right – he continued – that our thoughts turn to the many martyrs of today, the many martyrs who give their lives for faith. It is true that during the times of Nero many Christians were persecuted, and today – he said – there are just as many.”

“There are many martyrs today, in the Church, many persecuted Christians. 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. So during this Mass, remembering our glorious ancestors, let us think also to 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”.

In the days since then, we’ve seen an escalation of epic proportions. There are calls for prayers, and for help for the victims and refugees who have had to flee persecution.

“It has shocked the conscience of the world that people are systematically being purged from the region where their families have lived for millennia simply for their faith. It is imperative that we stand in solidarity with them in defense of the freedom of religion and conscience, and provide them with whatever relief we can.”

Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight, Knights of Columbus

The Order of the Knight of Columbus has a long history of providing humanitarian relief and has long supported persecuted Christians. You can donate here.

Catholic Relief Services continues to provide help too, donate here.