Rome, Italy, Jul 14, 2019 / 15:08 pm
On an island in Rome’s Tiber River, there is a basilica devoted to the Christian martyrs of the 20th century, the bloodiest century in the history of the Catholic Church.
Flanked on either side by relics of Christians martyred under Communism and Nazism respectively, the main altar of the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island connects the tradition of Rome’s apostolic martyrs to the persecution of Christians today.
The church was first commissioned in 998 by German Emperor Otto III to receive the remains of St. Bartholomew, who was flayed alive for his faith, and St. Adalbert, bishop of Prague who was martyred in 997 during the evangelization of Poland.
Today the basilica houses relics of the apostle and medieval evangelist alongside those of St. Maximilian Kolbe, martyred in Auschwitz, and Sr. Leonella Sgorbati, a missionary nurse in Somalia in the height of the country’s civil war. Her last words as she was murdered in 2006 were: “I forgive them, I forgive, I forgive.”
Father Angelo Romano, rector of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island, told CNA that the basilica has received more than 120 relics from the persecuted Christian communities of modern martyrs from around the world. Many of the objects are second-class relics, which are items, or fractions of an item, that a saint personally owned.
The basilica is currently working on a crypt museum to display the entire collection because the basilica’s side chapels, which preserve the memory of recent martyrs from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe, cannot fit them all.
“The stories of the martyrs are attractive. People want to know about them because they are very close to Jesus, and when you are close to Jesus, people love you,” Fr. Romano said.
“These people, they forgave their own persecutors, like Jesus on the cross. This is the strength of love,” he said.