Roberto Maroni, the president of the Lombard region of Italy, said in an appeal to the media that “Father Jacques is a martyr of faith” adding that the pope “immediately proclaim him St. Jacques.” In a recent article John Allen suggested that Fr. “Hamel’s martyrdom gives organizers (of the WYD) a chance to educate Catholic youth at a moment when they’re likely to be especially receptive.” Education is key and martyrdom has unfortunately become a common occurrence; WYD might be the perfect setting to reflect on this current and crucial issue. Is there a difference between the Christian martyr and terrorist suicide bombers? The results of both might seem the same: loss of human life, but the philosophy behind both acts is diametrically opposite.
The most recent attacks on innocent people in France, suicide bombings in Germany, killing of Catholic priests and nuns in Yemen, are brutal acts of terrorism, not martyrdom. The Syrian suicide bomber who injured fifteen innocent people last Sunday in Ansbach, Germany, is not a martyr. A martyr is exactly the opposite of a suicide bomber. A martyr is someone who upholds his/her faith to death. He/she is a lover of faith and of life. He or she dies so that something else may live and multiply. The martyr dies so that his/her cause may live. A martyr is the one who cares so much for something outside of himself, that “he forgets his personal life” (Chesterton). Christ’s death on the cross was not a deliberate suicidal act. Instead, Christ is a model for the martyr to imitate and to follow in voluntarily enduring death because of love of faith. Faith is so crucially important and life such a tremendous gift that martyrs are ready to give their lives up for the cause. The cause is outside and more important than self. Self is destroyed and diluted; it becomes meaningless for the cause. Odium fidei, or hatred of the faith, is another important requirement for martyrdom and, if this element is lacking, there is no true martyrdom according to the perennial theological and juridical doctrine of the Church.
Suicide, on the other hand, is an act of rejection and negation of life. It is a deeply desperate act. The terrorist suicide bomber “cares so little for anything outside of him, that he wants to see the last of everything.” (Chesterton). A suicide bomber is a destroyer of life and of the other. The focus here is on self and personal distress, thus forgetting everyone else. There is no cause to live for, but instead much distress in dying, often sacrificing the lives of others in the process.
Eleven years ago during the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne, Pope Benedict XVI in his speech to the Muslim communities living in Germany reflected on the spread of terrorism and the damage terrorism was causing to Christian-Muslim relations. The Pope warned that terrorist attacks and suicide bombings which were occurring in various parts of the world “poison our relations and destroy trust, making use of all means, including religion, to oppose every attempt to build a peaceful and serene life together.” Obviously, things have become worse in the last several years. Time demands an urgent need for education and interaction, mercy and dialogue, exploration and contemplation of possibilities to build human bridges (Pope Francis) and WYD is the perfect palestra – training ground to practice all of the above.