In 1999, in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, St. John Paul II established a ‘Commission of New Martyrs’ to investigate Christian martyrdom in the 20th century. The commission worked for two years in the premises of St Bartholomew’s Basilica, collecting around 12,000 dossiers.
“I entered the great archive of the New Martyrs Commission, where letters, reports, memoirs are collected that, in recent years, have arrived in Rome from all over the world. I started leafing through them. They were official letters from bishops’ conferences all over the world. But also memoirs from simple groups of religious. I read and became passionate. There were thousands of stories of contemporary men and women: Christians who had been killed as such’.
This is how Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, talks about it, introducing his work on more than 9600 records in the archive. After the Jubilee, St John Paul II wanted the Basilica to become the memorial site of the New Martyrs. The proclamation was solemnly celebrated on 12 October 2002, in the presence of Card. Ruini, Kasper and George, and the Orthodox Patriarch of Romania Teoctist: the large icon dedicated to the 20th century Witnesses of the Faith was placed on the high altar. On 7 April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI honoured the memory of the Witnesses of the Faith of the 20th and 21st centuries with a visit to the Community of Sant’Egidio on its 40th anniversary. The six altars, the Pope explained
“They remember the Christians who fell under the totalitarian violence of Communism, Nazism, those killed in America, in Asia and Oceania, in Spain and Mexico, in Africa: we ideally retrace many painful events of the past century. So many fell while fulfilling the Church’s evangelising mission: their blood mingled with that of native Christians to whom the faith had been communicated’.
Below is an article by Kurt Koch, Cardinal President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, published in L’Osservatore Romano on 17 January 2020.