Martyrs of Yesterday and Today

This week we have the memorial of two martyrs. Marie-Anne Vaillot and Odile Baumgarten belonged to the Company of the Daughters of Charity. They worked in the Hospital of Saint Jean in Angers. The two were martyred on 1 February 1794, during the French Revolution, in the company of many other martyrs.

They can be considered doubly as martyrs. First, because they exercised charity to everyone in an exemplary way. They dedicated their lives to the sick and the poor. Saint Vincent de Paul said that those who are dedicated to helping the poor effectively are “martyrs of Charity.”

They forgot themselves in order to serve God in the person of the needy. It is an example and model of Charity for all the Daughters of Charity and for each member of the Vincentian Family throughout the world. In fact, they were people who dedicated their lives, surrendered themselves body and soul, to following the Vincentian Charism left us by Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac.

Then, they are martyrs because they shed their blood. They did not fear the death that would result from the French Revolution’s charges against them. They were aware that surrendering to God, in the person of the poor, is an unconditional surrender.

The term “martyr” comes from the Greek. In its original, secular sense, it meant “testimony.” From the second and third centuries, it came to designate the person who gave witness in favor of Jesus Christ and his doctrine with the sacrifice of his/her life. Witness is innate to the Christian faith. It is not only a question of affirming, in an abstract way, the truths of the Christian faith, but it implies witnessing concretely by identifying with the person of Jesus Christ and his history.

Martyrdom becomes a sign of the Kingdom of God. It is in the logic of the Beatitudes. Its content is the happiness that has hope as an essential dimension, because it participates in the tension between the “already” and the “not yet,” which is proper to the Kingdom of God. We know that the happiness of the Christian is based on a promise. That promise consists in the fulfillment of a mission: to break the disorder provoked by injustices and build a more humane new social order. In other words, it means that all Christians must be protagonists of direct rebellion against the oppressive powers that threaten the dignity and life of people.

Martyrs are the manifestations of an order in which evil dominates. In the course of humanity’s history to our day, a considerable number of people, who did not belong to the Church, died, in conditions similar to those of Christians, because of their convictions. They are people who gave up or give up, even today, their lives in defense of justice, freedom, and human dignity. They are people who have the same values defended by Christians: the struggle for human dignity.

Mizaél Donizetti Poggioli, CM