16 Jan Letter to the Custody in Morocco on the Feast of the Holy Martyrs of Marrakech
My dear Brother Custos, Br. Manuel,
and all the Brothers of the Custody in Morocco,
May peace the Lord be upon you!
Today we commemorate the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the Holy Martyrs of Marrakech, the first martyrs of the Order of Friars Minor. Burning zeal for the Gospel, and the hope of transmitting the Good News of Jesus Christ, of God’s love and mercy for the world and for each and every human person, was at the heart of the mission undertaken by these five Brothers of the Order. We know that their death inspired many young men to join the Order. Chief among these was Anthony of Lisbon, later to be known as the Saint of Padua, who entered the Order with the same burning desire to live the Gospel and to go among Muslims and unbelievers to share the message of Jesus Christ. It is this burning desire for love of God and all human beings that has inspired and sustained our missionary presence in Morocco these past 800 years.
This occasion also gives rise to a serious call for us to reflect on the nature of missionary evangelization in the light of authentic religious freedom and of the importance of humility, being willing to listen and learn from others through patient and lifelong dialogue and to recognize in them, most especially our Muslim neighbors (cf. CCGG, 95, §3), that they indeed are our brothers and sisters. A further step towards this deeper understanding of what it means to live among other believers and “nonbelievers” would be for us both to study and to integrate St. Francis’ insight into religious freedom and the mysterious ways of God, who is at work in all times, among all peoples and in all circumstances of life (cf. CCGG, 93, §§1-2). in Chapter XVI of the Regula non bullata, our Seraphic Brother provides us with a method for initiating and continuing to live the Gospel in a radical manner, and for sharing the experience of what it means to enter into a deep and abiding experience with God with others:
As for the brothers who go, they can live spiritually among the Saracens and nonbelievers in two ways. One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake and to acknowledge that they are Christians. The other way is to announce the Word of God, when they see it pleases the Lord…
These words were written after the events of the martyrdom we commemorate today. They provide us with a specific direction to how we are to conduct ourselves as missionary-disciples of the risen Lord Jesus. What is more, in a certain sense they also anticipate the Church’s reflection on the nature of religious freedom later found in Nostra aetatae, paragraph 1, where we read:
One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. One also is their final goal, God. His providence, His manifestations of goodness, His saving design extend to all men, until that time when the elect will be united in the Holy City, the city ablaze with the glory of God, where the nations will walk in His light.
Today, we Friars Minor recommit ourselves to embracing Francis’ own burning desire to share his experience of God’s love and mercy with others, an experience that led him to embrace all people as brothers and sisters – children of God and members of God’s one family, called to pursue the path of holiness, justice, peace, and goodness towards all living things.
May the Spirit of God who moved over the waters at creation, who raised up holy Prophets, who sent His beloved Son Jesus into the world so that all might share in the dignity and holiness in which all have been formed and towards which all are destined, lead and guide you and all of the Brothers of the Order to “be subject to every human creature for God’s sake (RnB, 16).” May you live in authentic humility of spirit, convinced of the redeeming message of Jesus Christ and committed to walking together along the path of justice and peace. May this commemoration of the Five Holy Martyrs of Marrakech provide all Brothers with a moment in which we might give thanks and recommit ourselves to following in the footprints of our Lord Jesus Christ.
With every best wish and blessing to you all on this special day, and in fraternal support of your service to the Good News of Jesus Christ, I remain,
Rome, 16 January 2019
Feast of the Holy Martyrs of Marrakech
Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM
Minister General and Servant