On July 13, 1917 the three children of Fatima saw a vision regarding the persecutions during the 20th century.
The children saw a bishop dressed in white and they had the impression that it was the Holy Father. “Other bishops, priests, men and women religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other bishops, priests, men and women religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.”
During the 20th century there were persecutions in Asia, Africa, Central and South America, the Middle East and Europe.
Between 1931 and 1939 Spain experienced the greatest Christian mass slaughter since the times of the Roman Empire.
During World War II, the Nazi regime fiercely persecuted the Church. After World War II, Communist persecutions had become systematic in Eastern Europe.
Blessed John Paul II said, “Countless numbers refused to yield to the cult of the false gods of the 20th century and were sacrificed by Communism, Nazism, by the idolatry of State or race”.
On May 13, 1981 John Paul II (the bishop dressed in white) was shot at St. Peter’s Square. After the assassination attempt, it was clear to John Paul II that “it was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path and in his throes the Pope halted at the threshold of death”.
John Paul II said, “The Church has once again become a Church of martyrs…This witness must not be forgotten.”
The Holy Father repeatedly urged the faithful to keep alive the memory of the martyrs of the 20th century. He said, “The new generations must know the cost of the faith they have inherited, if they are to receive the torch of the Gospel with gratitude and shed its light on the new century and the new millennium.”
The Church keeps alive the memory of martyrs especially through canonizations and beatifications.
Two of the most famous martyrs canonized by John Paul II are St. Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross or Edith Stein (1891-1942).
St. Maximilian was a great devotee of Our Lady. He founded the Militia of Mary Immaculate, started a Marian magazine, and established an international center of Marian devotion.
During World War II, St. Maximilian was arrested by the Nazi. At the concentration camp, in reprisal for one prisoner’s escape, ten men were chosen to die. Father Kolbe offered himself in place of a young husband and father. He died a martyr of charity on August 14, 1941.
Edith Stein was a philosopher who converted to the Catholic Faith after reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. She became a Carmelite nun and lived a life of prayer, fasting, and penance. In 1942 she was arrested by the Nazi and was killed in the gas chamber on August 9.