Richardson was invited to offer his testimony, surrounded by his wife and children, before Pope Francis in Dublin’s Croke Park. (He even received a namecheck in the pope’s address that evening.)
The Richardson family was chosen to represent Europe at the gathering, alongside other families representing Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
“The other family was from Mosul in Iraq,” he said. They were the family of Fr. Ragheed Ghanni, a Chaldean Catholic priest who was shot dead outside his church in the city in 2007.
“I got to spend the weekend with his mother and father, and sisters,” he said. “It really had a big impact on me, that this guy was martyred just a few years ago. This is real, you know?”
He felt galvanized by the encounter and approached a friend, Michael Kinsella, national director of Aid to the Church in Need Ireland. With his encouragement, the charity decided to republish the book, with all proceeds going to help persecuted Christians.
Kinsella told CNA that the book had inspired significant donations.
Describing his friendship with Richardson, he said: “What obviously impressed me in the first instance was his faithfulness, his testimony of overcoming his own -- as it were -- martyrdom, his ‘white martyrdom,’ through recovery from addiction.”
“But it was also his humility in recognizing that the faith that he’d been gifted with had been hard-defended and won through the sacrifice of so many others. And once he was able to make that emotional and spiritual connection, love begets love. He wanted to share that -- and that’s a sure sign of the Holy Spirit.”
“He was most insistent that it was a shared endeavor and that all the proceeds of the book go 100% directly, totally, to the persecuted Church.”
Richardson, now aged 47, believes that the book is particularly resonant in coronavirus times. When he spoke to CNA, public worship remained suspended by the Irish government as a precaution against the spread of the virus.
Describing life under the Penal Laws, he said: “Irish Catholics weren’t allowed to travel five miles from their house. It was forbidden for a Catholic priest to celebrate the Holy Mass. He would go to prison. That’s the same today. And it was forbidden for Irish Catholics to go to Mass.”
Not all the martyrs in the book are priests and bishops.
“There’s even a few pages on Irish Catholics who were sold as slaves when they were harboring priests,” he noted. “The penalty was that the father would get his ears cut off. His property would be confiscated. His wife would be thrown out on the streets and his daughters would be sold as slaves to the West Indies.”
“There are documents where they’re saying there could possibly be 20,000 young boys and girls sold as slaves just because they wouldn’t renounce the Catholic faith.”
(There is an ongoing academic discussion about the similarities and differences between the penal transportation and indentured servitude of Irish people and chattel slavery.)
As Richardson spoke, it was clear that the initial shock he experienced at the violence inflicted on the martyrs hadn’t worn off. He described how priests were sometimes tied between horses, then killed as the animals were driven in opposite directions.
He said that the courage Catholics showed before their executions was “unreal” and a mark of supernatural grace.
“They could have stopped this persecution,” he said, “All they had to do was renounce the Catholic faith. And they wouldn’t.”
This makes it even more baffling to him that the martyrs are rarely acknowledged in Ireland today.
“Most people haven’t got a clue about this period in Irish history,” he said.
Kinsella suggested that to preserve this precious national memory, martyrs’ stories should feature not only in history lessons but also in catechesis.
“What made people endure privation, hardship, torture for hundreds of years, in the most poverty-stricken of conditions? What made them do it?” he asked.
“Children have no idea that the very soil upon which we walk was drenched with the blood of people who happened to express faith in Christ.”
Looking back on his discovery of the book in the north Dublin house, Richardson summed it up as “a Holy Spirit moment.”
“God put this in my hands. I really believe that Irish Catholics, the faithful, need to read these stories,” he said.