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Forty Martyrs of England and Wales
(entered heaven between 1535 and 1679)
I am glad to hear of your successful ecumenical efforts. The Holy Father has greatly desired that all Catholics strive to build bridges between other Christian groups. Your approach of focusing on the person Christ and on Christian morality seems to be a wise one. You can certainly join forces to combat the evils of college culture, even though some divisions still exist on many levels. I think one of the levels that is too often overlooked as Catholics and non-Catholics try to move closer together is the historical-cultural level. If we really want to work towards full unity, we have to come to grips with some pretty harrowing historical realities, not just different interpretations of a few Bible passages. Today’s saints are an eloquent reminder of this.
In 1970 Pope Paul VI established today as an optional memorial for the forty martyrs of England and Wales, forty men, women, clergy, laity, and religious who represent the more than 300 people who were martyred in the turbulent years following King Henry VIII’s break from Catholicism. By establishing the Church of England in 1535, he inaugurated a century and a half of violent civil strife that tore apart the fabric of English society, along with the bodies of hundreds of martyrs. It’s hard for us to understand the persistence and intensity of the violence, because in our day religious pluralism is taken for granted. But four centuries ago, European culture considered religious truth to be the most sacred sphere of social identity. Kings and governments felt obliged in conscience to stamp out heresy, since heresy would have evil effects on the souls of citizens. In the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation, therefore, all Europe exploded in a series of brutal religious wars. Catholics and Protestants alike behaved heroically and villainously, and in the end the conflict settled nothing, merely consolidating deep cultural and emotional divisions and paving the way for the evils of secularism.
By establishing this feast day, Pope Paul VI didn’t want to aggravate old wounds; he simply wanted to honor those Catholics who had valued their faith more than their life. And this proclamation was made in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, which laid so much emphasis on ecumenism and Christian unity – it’s almost as if the Pope wanted to make sure no one misunderstood the Council’s message: Christian unity is crucial for the success of the Church’s efforts at evangelization, but it must truly be Christian unity. In other words, you can’t compromise Catholic doctrine just to make friends with non-Catholics; unity can and must be built on truth.
It seems you have learned the lesson well. Keep up the good work.
Your devoted uncle, Eddy