by Dom Pedro Casaldáliga
Emeritus Bishop of São Félix do Araguaia, Brazil
(English translation by Rebel Girl)
The subject-theme of our Pilgrimage of the Martyrs in this year 2011 is "Witnesses to the Kingdom." It is the most comprehensive and profound title one could choose for a martyrial pilgrimage. Giving one's life bearing witness to the God of Life, Peace and Love. All those who are giving their lives daily and giving them completely at the end of their journey, are witnesses to God's plan for Humanity, for the Universe. They are responding with the best they have to God's dream, the Kingdom of God.
With these two words - "Witnesses to the Kingdom" - we summarize everything that can be said about a life given, a death lived. In the most traditional Christian view, that death is lived through Christian faith. The martyrs whom the Church recognizes officially are martyrs of the faith, Christian morality, the Gospel, specifically: missionaries perhaps, victims of heroic charity, virgins radically faithful to the divine Spouse.
In a renewed Christian vision, a deeper one, more consonant with the Word and the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, all those who give their lives through dying for the causes of the Kingdom -- for justice, peace, solidarity, ecology, for the true advancement of the marginalized neighbor -- are martyrs. Jesus in the Gospel defines them categorically: the greatest proof of love is to give one's life for love. Our Fr. João Bosco Penido Burnier gave his life as a missionary among indigenous people and peasants and gave his life to free two women subjected to torture.
These days there's news, at least in the media that's more at the service of the people, about the killing in the south of Para of an activist couple in the service of nature -- Cláudio José and Maria do Espírito Santo (photo). After Chico Mendes and Sister Dorothy, two more environmentalists have been killed in southern Pará. Sadly the same day in which the Chamber of Deputies approved the sinister new Forest Code that will legalize deforestation, granting amnesty for the crimes of loggers. Cláudio José and Maria do Espírito Santo are two new martyrs of the forest.
To be a Christian is to bear witness, to respond with one's own life to the call of the Kingdom and prophetically denounce the wickedness of the anti-Kingdom. To respond daily, faithfully, to God's love through fraternal service. It is being consistent with the word made proclamation and the proclamation made practice. It is to be a witness, first, to the supreme witness, Jesus of Nazareth, proclaimed in Revelation as "The Faithful Witness." He came to do the will of the Father, radically witnessing to God's love. He came so that all may have life and fullness of life. He repeated to His persecutors and to all the people that His works bore witness to Him who sent Him.
A chain of "witnessing". Jesus bears witness to the Father, the martyrs bear witness to Jesus, we bear witness to our martyrs. We are witnesses of witnesses. And we celebrate the Pilgrimage of the Martyrs of the Way, in the Sanctuary of Ribeirão Cascalheira to keep alive the memory of all of those who fell gloriously, with the testimony of their own blood.
We celebrate the Pilgrimage of the Martyrs in one day, in one place, to reassume the commitment to live as witnesses to the Kingdom every day and everywhere. To bear witness to the testimony of our martyrs and renew, with passion, radically, with joy, our following of Jesus, in seeking the Kingdom, in living out the Kingdom, in celebration of the Kingdom, in invincible hope for the Kingdom.
For my priestly ordination, around 1952, I chose as a memento a card with that El Greco painting that shows Jesus looking up to the Father and surrendering Himself at His service. Sacrifices don't please You and I came to do Your will, Jesus says. For the memento, I picked chapter 1, verse 8 of the Acts of the Apostles: "You shall be My witnesses to the ends of the earth."
And to any border and in all circumstances, we will continue on the way, as witnesses of witnesses, as "Witnesses to the Kingdom".