From the day Jesus was crucified, Christian after Christian have been killed, some in the most brutal of ways. Their only crime being their faith and believing in it to the point of death. We trace a few Christians across historical time and geographical space whose death remains revered just like that of our own Uganda Martyrs.
The 108 Martyrs of World War II
German tyrant, Adolf Hitler’s terror outfit, the Nazi, it is estimated, claimed lives of more than 6.4 million people, some in concentration camps. Intoxicated with blood and power, Hitler went on a mission to extinguish the Polish people and Jews but 108 men and women stood their ground and died for their faith.
These were Roman Catholics from Poland at the peak of World War. The group, an online source says, “comprises three bishops, 52 priests, 26 members of male religious orders, three seminarians, eight female religious sisters and nine lay people. There are two parishes named for the 108 Martyrs of World War II in Powiercie in Kolo County, and in Malbork, Poland.” catholic.org adds, “Their liturgical feast day is June 12. The 108 were beatified on June 13, 1999 by Pope John Paul II at Warsaw, Poland.”
Like all martyrs, this group of 108 did not have to commit any crime against the state of Germany or meddle in the bitter politics of the West and East at the time. Their only crime was belonging to their faith and it is what they died for. This particular group possibly only compares to the Uganda Martyrs in terms of international stature and fame basing on online search results and depth of attention across the world accorded to their liturgy day.
Andrew was one of the first disciples of Christ. He was previously a disciple of John. Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter. After the biblical record of Andrew’s life, he went on to preach around the Black Sea and was influential in starting several churches. He was the founder of the church in Byzantium or Constantinople.
Tradition says that Andrew was crucified on an X shaped cross on the northern coast of Peloponnese. Early writings state that the cross was actually a Latin cross like the one Jesus was crucified upon. But the traditional story says that Andrew refused to be crucified in the same manner as Christ because he was not worthy.
Their martyrdom remains a point of debate in as much as it raised controversy back in the day. These are men of the church who took a rather radical path, advocating for a paradigm shift in the catholic church, ancient Rome and dying for principles they held and considered dear to the growth of the church. They include Polycarp, Wycliffe and John Huss.
The 119 Martyr Saints of China
These are saints from the Roman Catholic church. 87 of these were Chinese Catholics and 33 western missionaries with church related activities spanning from the mid-17th century to 1930, according to online sources. They were martyred because of their ministry and, in some cases refusing to denounce their faith. In the ordinary form of the Latin Rite they are remembered with an optional memorial on July 9.
However, the Holy See recognises Saint Francisco Fernández de Capillas, a Dominican priest, who died at 40. On January 15, 1648, it is said, “the Manchus, having invaded the region of Fujian and shown themselves hostile to the Christian religion, killed Saint Francisco Fernández de Capillas. Having imprisoned and tortured him, they beheaded him while he recited with others the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.”
As with many people in the early centuries, Polycarp’s exact birth and death dates are not known. Even his date of martyrdom is disputed; though it was some time between 155 AD and 167 AD. Polycarp was probably a disciple of the Apostle John who wrote the Gospel of John, the three Epistles of John and the book of Revelation. Polycarp may have been one of the chief people responsible for compiling the New Testament of the Bible that we have today.
Because of his refusal to burn incense to the Roman Emperor he was sentenced to burn at the stake. Tradition says that the flames did not kill him so he was stabbed to death.
Known as “The Morning Star of the Reformation”, John Wycliffe was a 14th century theologian. He is probably best remembered as a translator of scriptures. He believed that the Bible should be available to the people in their common tongue. He translated the Latin Vulgate into common English.
He was persecuted for his stand against Papal authority. While he was not burned at the stake as a martyr, his persecution extended beyond his death. His body was exhumed and burned along with many of his writings. The Anti-Wycliffe Statute of 1401 brought persecution to his followers and specifically addressed the fact that there should not be any translation of Scripture into English.
Brought to Christ by his brother Andrew, Peter is known as the disciple who spoke often before he thought. After Christ’s death, Peter was the fiery preacher prominently seen in the first half of the book of Acts. He founded the church at Antioch and travelled preaching mainly to Jews about Jesus Christ.
Peter was martyred under Nero’s reign. He was killed in Rome around the years 64 to 67. Tradition holds that he was crucified upside down. Like Andrew, his brother, he is said to have refused to be crucified in the same manner as Christ because he was unworthy to be executed in the same way as the Lord.
Stephen is considered one of the first Christian martyrs after Christ himself.
Stephen was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, his words offended the listeners. They put together a council that brought false-witness to the things Stephen was saying (Acts 6:11-13). Stephen proclaimed that, “God’s own people were at fault for suppressing the prophets’ call to righteousness. They even killed the Holy One, Jesus Christ.”
Their reaction was to gnash on him with their teeth. They ran Stephen out of the city and stoned him. Yet, Stephen patiently accepted the persecution that was given to him. He asked the Lord not to hold them guilty who had stoned him. He essentially repeated Christ’s words on the cross.
The Scillitan Martyrs
of North Africa
“I recognise not the empire of this world but rather do I serve that God whom no man hath seen, nor with these eyes can see,” is what one of these North African martyrs told the emperor right in the face when called upon to swear an oath. These were a company of 12 North African Christians (seven men and five women) who were executed for their beliefs on July 17, 180. The martyrs take their name from Scilla (or Scillium), a town in Numidia.
The Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs are considered to be the earliest documents of the church of Africa. In their Acts, Speratus, their principal spokesman, wrote that they had lived, “a quiet and moral life, paying their dues and doing no wrong to their neighbors.” The martyrs were offered a thirty-day reprise to reconsider their decision, but they all refused. The fame of the martyrs led to the building of a basilica in their honor at Carthage, Tunisia.
Compiled by: Ivan Okuda with additional reporting from agencies