Week 7: “Spirit of the Martyrs and a New Pentecost”

By Marianne Comfort

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” -John 20:19-22

In this season of renewal and remembrance that death doesn’t have the final word, my mind drifts back to a bright, sunny morning in St. Peter’s Square last October.

Visitors from around the world gathered at Rome’s Castel Sant Angelo, and processed down the Via della Conciliazione and around St. Peter’s Square in a Way of the Cross built around the themes of the Synod on the Amazon, which was taking place nearby.

As we re-created the 14 stations of Jesus’ journey to his death on the cross, indigenous leaders and bishops of the region and those in solidarity with them reflected on the pain and suffering of the peoples of the 9-country Amazon territory. 

Prayer themes included violation of human rights, exploitation of Earth by extractive industries and violence especially experienced by women. And at each stop we remembered martyrs of the Amazon and other critical bioregions such as the Congo Basin in Africa who had died defending their land, their water and their people’s rights.

The large wooden cross that led the procession gradually became covered with photos of these martyrs, with a new depiction or two added at each stop. Among them was Saint Oscar Romero of El Salvador and Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Dorothy Stang, an American killed in Brazil for standing in solidarity with local peoples against ranchers and loggers.

As we re-formed our circle at each stop, we also carried into the new space a canoe, a wooden carving of a pregnant woman and other symbols and banners representing the abundant life of the region.

At the end, in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica, a number of participants lay down on the hard pavement to symbolize the death of all of these martyrs we had named over the past couple of hours in our slow procession of prayers and songs.

Then they all arose, all these martyrs in a mass resurrection. We no longer were just remembering the martyrs and their courage. We were also being reminded that they live on within us, within their local communities and within the ongoing struggles for justice in the Amazon and elsewhere.

All of those dreams for the future that the martyrs instilled in us were then symbolically handed over to the next generation in a moment that blended Easter hope with foreshadowing of the sending out of newly emboldened disciples at Pentecost. 

With no words spoken, an indigenous woman dressed a girl appearing to be of European heritage in a t-shirt with a message about the struggles of the Amazon, streaked her cheeks with paint and placed a rattle in her hand and a feathered crown on her head before others lifted the girl into the air in the canoe. A small group joyously carried the girl around a circle of onlookers, making it clear without any interpretation needed that we were getting a glimpse of the realization of the Synod’s call for new paths for the Church in the Amazon. ▪

About the Author
Marianne Comfort is justice coordinator for Earth, anti-racism and women for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. While in Italy for a meeting of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, she participated in some of the public events around the Synod.