Image courtesy of Daniel Philpott .

While you probably know that Notre Dame recently beat USC to finish its season undefeated 12-0, you may also be interested to hear about a recent international conference on martyrdom held at the university, specifically to raise awareness of contemporary martyrs and  ”to explore how the Church has responded and might respond in the future.”

“When most people think of Christian martyrs, they think of the early Christians who were persecuted and killed during the first few centuries of the Church,” Ann Carey says at Our Sunday Visitor . “However, most people don’t realize that . . . more than 70 million people had been killed over the centuries because they were Christian, with more than half of those deaths occurring since 1900. Of those 70 million martyrs, more than 12 million were Catholic, with 11 million of those killed in the second millennium alone, many by Joseph Stalin and the Nazis. ”

Sponsored by Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life , Nov 4-6, the conference was titled “Seed of the Church: Telling the Story of Today’s Christian Martyrs.”

Each of the conference speakers acknowledged that “sometimes violence is perpetrated by Christians themselves on other faiths as well as on fellow Christians. Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto, Nigeria, said that persecutions in Africa were very complex and different from the Middle East. The violence and persecutions in Africa often involve politics, ethnic differences and land ownership. Further, sometimes subgroups of the faiths attack each other.”

“The way forward,” insisted Bishop Kukah of Nigeria, “is to continue on the path to democracy for a fair and just society by building relationships through dialogue and insisting that governments protect all their citizens.”

The conference focused on contemporary martyrs in Nigeria, India, and China and culminated in Notre Dame’s Sacred Heart Basilica where Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigan?, apostolic nuncio to the United States, blessed a copy of the icon of the new martyrs depicting their stories. The icon was created by Renata Schiachi and placed on the high altar in the San Bartolomeo church in Rome which Pope John Paul II in 1999 dedicated as a basilica “to indicate solidarity with the new martyrs and encourage meditation on their witness.”

Daniel Philpott , associate professor of political science and peace studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies , (who wrote “Peace After Genocide” in the June/July 2012 issue of First Things ) concluded: “It is our prayer that the icon will encourage visitors to the basilica to mediate on the witness of today’s martyrs and thus encourage the Church in the United States to stand in solidarity with today’s martyrs.”

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