Pope John Paul II has honored more than 12,000 members of modern Christianity's different traditions who endured great suffering for their faith. Yesterday's commemoration of "witnesses to the faith in the twentieth century" had profound ecumenical significance because the Vatican ceremony included tributes to thousands of non-Catholic Christians.The ceremony took place in the Colosseum in Rome where the ancient Romans watched early Christians being slaughtered for their beliefs.After a Gospel reading by a Roman Catholic deacon and an Orthodox clergyman, Pope John Paul, who turns 80 on May 18, said in his homily: "I warmly greet representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of the other Orthodox sister churches, as well as those of the ancient Churches of the East. I likewise thank the representatives of the Anglican Communion, of the worldwide Christian Communions of the West and of the ecumenical organizations for their fraternal presence."Yesterday's ceremony was prepared by the Vatican officials overseeing church celebrations throughout the year, which has been named a Jubilee year by the Pope. The Vatican asked Catholic dioceses around the world, along with non-Catholic churches, to submit the names of twentieth century "martyrs" and "witnesses to the faith." The Vatican has compiled a list—reportedly containing 12,692 names—but the list has yet to be published.In yesterday's ceremonies, the Christians in question were divided into eight categories:

  • "Christians who bore witness to their faith under Soviet totalitarianism"
  • "Witnesses to the faith who were victims of communism in other nations of Europe"
  • "Confessors of the faith who were victims of nazism and fascism"
  • "Followers of Christ who gave their lives for the proclamation of the Gospel in Asia and Oceania"
  • "Christian faithful persecuted out of hatred for the Catholic faith"
  • "Witnesses of evangelization in Africa and Madagascar"
  • "Christians who gave their lives for love of Christ and their brothers and sisters in America"
  • "Witnesses to the faith in other parts of the world."

Two examples of each "category" were mentioned in yesterday's ceremonies, and included 11 Catholics, an Orthodox (Russian Patriarch Tikhon who stood up to the Bolsheviks), an Armenian leader (Catholicos Karekin I—of the Armenian Apostolic Church—who died of cancer last June), an Anglican (Bishop Philip Strong who died in a Japanese camp in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War), a Lutheran (Paul Schneider, who resisted the Nazis), and a Baptist (Canadian Dr W. G. R. Jotcham who died in Nigeria after contracting meningitis while caring for the sick).But Pope John Paul pointed out that many of the people who suffered or died for the faith were "unknown soldiers … There are so many of them. They must not be forgotten. Rather they must be remembered, and their lives documented."A total of 19 churches and ecumenical organizations were represented at yesterday's event, including many Orthodox churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the Anglican Communion, the World Methodist Council and the World Council of Churches. But, as at other events for the Jubilee, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Italian Federation of Protestant Churches did not attend.Copyright © 2000 ENI.

Related Elsewhere

Media coverage of the ceremony included articles by The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, the UK Telegraph, the BBC, and the Associated Press.The Vatican's Web site includes the full text of Pope John Paul II's homily, the preceding press conference, presentation, preparation, and other resources.