Vatican City, Nov 16, 2018 / 02:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- There is the bloody martyrdom of Christians killed for their faith, but also another “martyrdom” which takes place when religious freedom is unjustly limited, Pope Francis said Friday in an audience with a group which assists the Church in the Holy Land.
“It is in front of the whole world – which too often turns its gaze to the other side – the dramatic situation of Christians who are persecuted and killed in ever-increasing numbers,” the pope said Nov. 16 in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
“In addition to their martyrdom in their blood,” he said, “there is also their ‘white martyrdom,’ such as that which occurs in democratic countries when freedom of religion is restricted.”
Pope Francis spoke with around 130 members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem on the final day of their Nov. 13-16 general assembly in Rome. The knighthood order provides financial support to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
To their material support, the pope urged them to unite prayer under the intercession of Our Lady of Palestine. “She is caring Mother and the Help of Christians, for whom she obtains strength and comfort from the Lord in sorrow,” he said.
Emphasizing that the order is not just a “philanthropic agency,” he called its members to “place the evangelical love of your neighbor as the final aim of your works, to witness everywhere the goodness and care with which God loves everyone.”
Since the order’s last general assembly in 2013, it has grown in number, in geography, in pilgrimages, and in the material assistance it has offered to the Church in the Holy Land, the pope noted, thanking the members for their support of the Holy Land.
“It is a good sign that your initiatives in the field of training and health care are open to all, regardless of the communities they belong to and the professed religion.”
“In this way you help to pave the way to the knowledge of Christian values, to the promotion of interreligious dialogue, mutual respect and mutual understanding,” he said, adding: “your contribution to the construction of the path… will lead, we all hope, to the achievement of peace throughout the region.”
Francis also noted the assembly’s agenda, which focused on the role of the local leaders, but underlined the importance of remembering that their main purpose is the spiritual growth of members – not the success of charitable initiatives which cannot be separated from “religious formation programs” for members.
So that members, called knights and ladies, may “strengthen their indispensable relationship with the Lord Jesus, especially in prayer, in the meditation of the Holy Scriptures and in the deepening of the doctrine of the church,” he said.
Leaders of the order of the Holy Sepulchre, he urged, have the task in particular of giving an example “of intense spiritual life and concrete adherence to the Lord.”
Francis closed the audience by asking for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Church in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East, “with her special intercession for those whose life and freedom are in danger.”