Pope: Asia Bibi an example of ‘continuous martyrdom’

Speaking to participants in a conference on sainthood, Pope Francis says that “no period has been devoid of martyrs, including our own day.”

By Joseph Tulloch

“When God calls an individual, it is always for the good of all.”

That’s how Pope Francis started an address on Thursday morning to participants in a Vatican-run conference on ‘The Communal Dimension of Sanctity.’

In his speech, the Pope discussed three important aspects of holiness – its power to unify, its place in the family, and martyrdom.

Asia Bibi’s “continuous martyrdom”

Martyrdom, Pope Francis said, is a “powerful model” of saintliness, of which “we have many examples throughout the history of the Church.”

“There is no period which has been devoid of martyrs,” he stressed, “including our own day.”

“We think that these martyrs do not exist, but let us think about a case of Christian life lived in continuous martyrdom, the case of Asia Bibi.”

Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic sentenced to death for blasphemy, was imprisoned for many years, eventually being released and moving to Canada.  

“Nearly nine years of Christian witness!” Pope Francis underlined. “There are many, many like her, who testify to faith and charity.”

A unifying force

Holiness, Pope Francis stressed, is a vocation “which is fulfilled first and foremost in charity.” It thus “unites us with our brothers and sisters, and so is not merely a personal event, but a community one.”

“When God calls an individual,” the Pope noted, “it is always for the good of all, as in the case of Abraham and Moses, Peter and Paul.”

The only legitimate response to Jesus’ love, he said, is to immediately desire to share it with others, “like Matthew, who, as soon as Jesus calls him, invites his friends to meet the Messiah”, or Paul, who, “having met the Risen One, becomes the apostle to the nations.”

Familial sanctity

The final subject of Pope Francis’s address was holiness as it occurs in families.

Although this sort of saintliness is “evident above all in the Holy Family of Nazareth”, the Pope said, “the Church offers us many other examples”, in particular “holy couples, in which each of the spouses was an instrument of salvation of the other.”

The holiness of a married couple, Pope Francis stressed, is not simply the sum total of the sanctity of each individual; rather, each one’s holiness contributes to multiplying that of their partner.

As an example of this sort of holiness, Pope Francis presented the Polish couple Josef and Wiktoria Ulma and their seven children. They attempted to save Jewish families from the Nazis by hiding them in their home, but were eventually caught and killed.

This Polish family, Pope Francis said, “reminds us that sanctification is a community journey, to be made in pairs, not alone. Always in community.”