This morning, dear Brothers and Sisters, our thoughts are with sixty-four French priests who died with hundreds of others on the prison ships of Rochefort. As St. Paul exhorted Timothy, they “fought the good fight of faith” [Cf. 1 Tim 6:12]. They even went through a long ordeal for having remained faithful to their faith and to the Church. If they died, it was because they insisted to the end on affirming their close communion with Pope Pius VI.
In a profound moral solitude, they took to heart the need to maintain a spirit of prayer. “Being tormented” by hunger and thirst [Cf. Lk 16:23], they had not one word of hatred for their executioners. Slowly, they allowed themselves to be identified with the sacrifice of Christ, which they celebrated by virtue of their ordination. Here they now are offered to us as a living sign of the power of Christ working in human weakness.
In the depths of their distress, they kept a sense of forgiveness. The unity of the faith and the unity of their homeland appeared to them as more important than anything else. We can, therefore, joyfully take up the words of Holy Scripture: the souls of these righteous men are in the hand of God. “Their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace” [Wis 3:2–3].
Saint John Paul II
Homily, Beatification of 64 Victims of the French Revolution
Sunday 1 October 1995
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