BY JUSTIN MCLELLAN
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican will establish a new commission to identify and catalogue Christians who have died for their faith in the last 25 years, Pope Francis said.
Looking to the Holy Year 2025, the pope instituted the Commission of New Martyrs within the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints to "create a catalogue of all those who have shed their blood to confess Christ and witness the Gospel," he wrote in a letter announcing the commission's establishment and published July 5 by the Vatican.
The pope said the commission will continue research that began ahead of Holy Year 2000 to "individuate the witnesses of the faith in this first quarter century and to continue in the future."
Martyrs have accompanied the church through every age, he wrote in the letter signed July 3, noting that martyrs "are more numerous in our time than in the first centuries.
"They are bishops, priests, consecrated persons, laypeople and families that in different countries of the world, with the gift of their lives, have offered the supreme test of charity," he wrote.
The pope said that the initiative does not seek to establish new criteria for canonically determining the requirements of martyrdom, but "to continue the initiated survey of those who, to this day, continue to be killed simply because they are Christians.
"It is a matter of continuing the historical investigation to collect the testimonies of life, up to the shedding of blood, of these our sisters and brothers, so that their memory stands out as a treasure cherished by the Christian community," Pope Francis wrote.
The commission's research into martyrs will not be limited within the Catholic Church but will extend to all Christian confessions, he said.
Even today "Christians continue to show, in contexts of high risk, the vitality of the baptism that brings us together," the pope wrote. "Indeed, it is not a few that, even aware of the risks they run, show their faith or participate in the Sunday Eucharist."
The pope recalled that, during the Jubilee year 2000, an ecumenical celebration was held at the Colosseum in Rome that gathered representatives of different churches to evoke what he called an "ecumenism of blood." He said a similar event will take place in the upcoming Jubilee year.
The Vatican announced July 5 that the commission will be led by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints. Its vice-president will be Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant'Egidio.
Its 10 members include Jesuit Father Arturo Sosa, superior general of the Jesuits; Sister Nadia Coppa, president of the International Union of Superiors General; political scientists and church historians.
Pope Francis said that the work of the commission will allow the testimonies of new martyrs "to be placed alongside the martyrs officially recognized by the church."
"The martyrs of the church are the witnesses of the hope that derives from faith in Christ and incites true charity," he wrote in his letter. "We owe a great debt to them and we cannot forget them."