Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) – The Lord himself announced the persecution of his disciples, and this has been a constant characteristic in the history of the Church. Insofar as Christians are faithful to Christ's message, they are frequently persecuted, even with physical violence. There is a prophetic dimension and call to conversion that is inherent in proclaiming the Gospel. It is important to emphasize that this prophetic dimension of faith should not be manipulated to put at the service of ideologies alien to the Gospel, but it is a prophecy directly tied to faith and to the message of salvation that Christ offers.
Since the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel, we find already in the figure of the Precursor, a model of faithfulness to the truth of God, preached at the risk of their lives. Saint Stephen is the second in the long list of witnesses to Christ, to the shedding of blood. We can observe a "red thread" running through the history of the Church, where persecution and the cross have remained present always.
Certainly, our brothers who suffer persecution in the flesh, imprisonment, abandonment, and many other sufferings, are a call for us to leave our comfort and mediocrity that often dominate our lives. When believing in the Lord Jesus begins to feel comfortable, there's something lacking in our discipleship of the Master. No doubt in Western society other techniques of persecution - not physical but moral ones – are often used, through the denigration of the Church and its ministers, especially the Holy Father, in the media. God also allows this for our good and our holiness. In fact, on the one hand it leads us to make an examination of conscience and convert, if something is not really according to the Gospel. On the other hand, it should lead us to imitate our persecuted brethren. They bear witness to a consistency and a freedom that cannot be intimidated by the pressures of the world, both moral and physical. If those who believe in Christ, for fear of persecution of any kind, silence the truth of the Gospel in defense of human life or in defense of the greatness of sexuality in all its truth or in the field of social injustice, then have betrayed their faith.
Christians are persecuted witnesses of the Holy Spirit. The Paraclete, with the power of love, supports the weakness of those who call upon the Lord and believe in Him wholeheartedly, those who are willing to leave everything and lose everything to bear witness to the faith. They are witnesses of the love that conquers violence, of the forgiveness that breaks down the walls of revenge, of the mercy that conquers enemies and persecutors with the power of love.
We can say that persecuted Christians are a constant source of authenticity in the Church. They show us, through their suffering, the truth of their faith and their trust in the Lord. With this cross, accepted with peace and love, the Church is renewed in the authenticity and freshness of a genuine love for Christ crucified, a love willing to give everything and lose everything. Our persecuted brothers remind us of the truth of the words of the Apostle Paul: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ... But in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (cf. Rom 8: 35-37).
In the Message for World Mission Sunday 2009, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Participation in the mission of Christ is also granted to those who preach the Gospel, for whom is reserved the same destiny as their Master. 'Remember the words I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too' (Jn 15:20). The Church walks the same path and suffers the same destiny as Christ, since she acts not on the basis of any human logic or relying on her own strength, but instead she follows the way of the Cross, becoming, in filial obedience to the Father, a witness and a traveling companion for all humanity.” (no. 4) (Agenzia Fides 29/03/2010)