It has been too long since I have written about martyrs other than Oscar Romero in this blog, but today it seems right to do so. In addition to Archbishop Romero, Pope Francis approved martyrdom decrees for the Polish Franciscan friars Michal Tomaszek and Zbigniew Strzalkowski and the Italian priest, Fr. Alessandro Dordi, all of them killed by the “Shining Path” guerrillas in Peru in separate incidents in 1991. I simply wish to remark on three aspects of this story.
· In the press reports from Rome, Archbishop Romero seemed to completely displace the Peruvian martyrs, who were supposed to be approved by the Congregation alone before Romero was added to the February 3rd agenda at the last minute. Although Romero would probably never want to steal these martyrs’ thunder, it is a telling commentary on the stature he has gained that he would have this unfortunate effect.
· Even though Romero grabbed all the headlines, there are insights we can gain by taking these martyrs as a group. For example, the Catholicity and international diversity of the group is striking. A Salvadoran, two Poles and an Italian, representing the Latin American Church (in Peru and El Salvador). There is even diversity in the orders and ranks of the men: a bishop, a priest, and two friars. It seems like a real cross-section of the Church and something for everyone to celebrate. It also serves as a good reminder that martyrs usually face persecution in groups—as Pope Francis has said, there are others behind Romero in El Salvador who will be put forth for consideration of their martyrdom as well.
· Finally, the most obvious point: the Peruvian martyrs were killed by Leftist extremists, while Romero was killed by the extreme right. The Shining Path killers pinned notes on the Peruvian martyrs calling them “servants of Imperialism.” Romero’s killers branded him Marxnulfo (a mockery of Arnulfo, his middle name). By seeing these martyrs together, perhaps we will be able to see beyond the facile arguments of those who would dismiss their martyrdoms as merely politically motivated deaths.