November 26 has been permanently inscribed in the calendar of activities of all SCJ communities around the world as SCJ Memorial Day. On this day the congregation of the Priests of the Sacred Heart remembers all those who have died as martyrs. This special day set to be celebrated every 26th of November was decreed by the General Superior, Fr. Jose Ornelas Carvalho, and his council, on May 11, 2004. Significantly this date corresponds with the death anniversary of Bp. Wittebols, SCJ who was murdered together with 27 religious during the Simba revolution in Congo in 1964. Their deaths occurred during the month of November from the 3rd to the 27th. On the 26th the Bishop of Wamba was killed along with six other missionaries. They gave their lives for the love of evangelization. Many of them were quite young.
Earlier, in 1936, Bl. Juan Maria de la Cruz, together with many priests, religious and lay people from Valencia, became victims of religious persecution during the Civil War in Spain from 1936 to 1939.
At some point in World War II, 5 priests were murdered or died in the hands of the Nazis: 1 was German and the 2 others were priests from Luxembourg, a Belgian and an Italian. 11 Dutchmen died in concentration camps in Indonesia. Besides these religious, 3 French missionaries died in Cameroon in 1959 and also a Dutch missionary from the North Brazilian Province in 1975 as a result of his protective assistance to poor fishermen in Northeast Brazil.
As stated in the letter of General Superior Fr. Jose Ornelas Carvalho dated May 31, 2004: All of them “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14) and achieved the ideal of the Founder who wished to be missionary and martyr. By their untimely demise, they became one with Him who loved us and gave his life for us (Gal. 2:20 ). Their deaths were the consequence of a life choice made much earlier and kept perseveringly to the end. They are our inspiration and a source of strength for our vocation and mission. We recall that martyrdom can be one possible outcome for each of us as we look at a life coupled with a daily faithfulness to the Gospel taken on and lived in observance of a charism marked by the reparatory oblation of Christ.
Recently, on October 13, 2013, in Tarragona, Spain, another group of 522 martyrs was beatified. They were also killed during the religious persecution from 1936 to 1939. On this occasion, Pope Francis sent to all participants a special video with this very interesting and inspiring message:
“Who are the martyrs? They are Christians who have been “earned” by Christ, disciples who have learnt well the sense of that “love to the extreme limit” which led Jesus to the Cross. There is no such thing as love in instalments, no such thing as portions of love. Total love: and when we love, we love till the end. On the Cross, Jesus felt the weight of death, the weight of sin, but he gave himself over to the Father entirely, and he forgave. He barely spoke, but he gave the gift of life. Christ “beats” us in love; the martyrs imitated him in love until the very end.
The Sainted Fathers say: “Let’s imitate the martyrs!” We must always die a little in order to come out of ourselves, of our selfishness, of our well-being, of our laziness, of our sadnesses, and open up to God, to others, especially those who need it most.
We implore the intercession of the martyrs that we may be concrete Christians, Christians in deeds and not just in words, that we may not be mediocre Christians, Christians painted in a superficial coating of Christianity without substance – they weren’t painted, they were Christians until the end. We ask them for help in keeping our faith firm, that even throughout our difficulties we may nourish hope and foster brotherhood and solidarity.”
The message of the Pope applies to each one of us as well. May the memorial of our SCJ brothers, who died as martyrs, become a source of inspiration and renewal of our faith and commitment to God and to his people. May it become a seed of our growth in holiness. May it teach us that every time we suffer, we are more credible and the Gospel proclaimed by us, has a greater value.