ROME (Christian Examiner) – Rome's Trevi Fountain was awash in blood red light April 29 as the Catholic faithful remembered the persecuted church worldwide.
During the nighttime demonstration, the voices of Christians from persecuted communities worldwide resounded from speakers across the square. The Christians told stories of how their loved ones and friends were martyred for their faith and they also called for an end to the violence.
Cardinal Mauro Piacenza said the purpose of the event was to remember the blood of the martyrs "spilled by the violence of men and the sin of the world."
Piacenze said the martyrs had shared in the suffering of Christ but, he added, they had made "a real and vicarious atonement, through Christ, with Christ and in Christ, in favor of all men."
Protestants reject the idea that the death of martyrs has any salvific benefit for others.
The cardinal, who leads the church's Apostolic Penitentiary and president of Aid to the Church in Need, said the martyrs had "entered into the glory of Paradise, with the palm of martyrdom in their hands and girded with the crown of glory."
The Apostolic Penitentiary is the arm of the church that grants indulgences, or the forgiveness of sins – an act Protestants also reject as antithetical to Scripture.
Still, the martyrdom of Catholics, Protestant Christians and other religious minorities has come into sharper focus in recent days. Among the countries where persecution has intensified are Nigeria, North Korea, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan.
Among those present were Luka Loteng, whose Christian friends from Garissa University were killed by Al-Shabaab militants from Sudan in 2015.
A member of the Missionaries of Charity, a largely Pakistani Catholic charity, was also present. Four of the nuns from the group were killed in Yemen earlier this year when militants aligned with the Islamic State attacked the nursing home where they worked.
Two weeks ago on Easter Sunday, Pope Francis said in an address that persecution is "the daily bread of the church."
"Jesus said so himself," Francis said as he reminded his audience that Christians today are suffering in the same way they did when torn apart by lions in the Colosseum.
"Today, on Easter Sunday, just three weeks ago ... Those Christians who were celebrating Easter in Pakistan were martyred because they were celebrating the Risen Christ. Thus, the history of the Church goes ahead with its martyrs."
On March 18, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry formally designated the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria toward Christians as "genocide."