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Along with several others, we received yesterday a statement from a reader who practices the dangerous profession of being a Christian missionary to Muslims in the Middle East. Along the way, the missionary notes:

In August of 2008 a young lady named Fatima al-Mutayri, age 26, was martyred in Saudi Arabia. She is from that country and became a Christian there by means of internet and satellite TV ministries, and was martyred there—she had her tongue cut out and was burned to death by her brother, who was carrying out the command of the Prophet who said, “who changes his religion, kill him” ( man badala diinahu faqataluuhu ).

Her tragic story is a powerful one, and it deserves our prayers and our tears. But the missionary also goes on to ask a serious and theologically fascinating question:

She was most certainly a Christian. I suspect that she was baptized but do not know for certain. And here is my two-part question: first, was she in full communion with Rome? I believe that she knew nothing of the debates between Catholics and Protestants. Moreover, I don’t think she ever had access to becoming a Catholic because the Catholic Church does not evangelize in Saudi Arabia and, of course, there no actual church buildings in that country.

And second: given this information, is it possible for her to be canonized? The canonization of an ex-Muslim woman who was born, lived, and died in Saudi Arabia, and who was martyred by her own family, would be perhaps the single most powerful statement that the Church has made on Islam since Vatican II (hardly a clear statement, and one that led many Catholics to believe, incorrectly, that the Church no longer was interested in evangelizing Muslims).

For the missionary, such questions are no mere academic disputanda. This person risks life daily and is asking about somebody who was recently martyred for the Faith. So what answer can we make?

It seems reasonable to say that Fatima was baptized by what scholastics would call “explicit desire.” In the early Church, prior to legalization, some adult catechumens were martyred before having a realistic chance to complete the process of instruction prior to baptism. Such people have traditionally been thought to have gone straight to heaven.

The only reason why a Catholic might exclude Fatima from the category of those baptized by explicit desire would be that she was not formally Catholic. But there is, of course, no reason to believe that her not being formally Catholic was in any sense culpable. So, if Lumen Gentium is to be believed, there is no reason to deny that she died in salvific communion with the Church.

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