Pope Francis has granted the Diocese of Coimbra, in central Portugal, a jubilee year which began on January 12 and will run until January 17, 2021.
The jubilee marks the 800th anniversary of the martyrdom of five Franciscan friars who set off to Morocco to evangelise Muslims in the 13th century. It is said that when St Francis heard of their death he praised God, saying: “Now at last do I have true Friars Minor!”
In a pastoral letter to the diocese, local Bishop Virgílio Antunes highlighted the example of the Moroccan martyrs and said that persecution may not be far off in Portugal itself.
“We are challenged with bearing witness to our faith and our hope but face the possibility of either civilised rejection or barbaric cultural and ideological persecution,” he wrote. “There are things that do not hurt the body but hurt the soul and silence the depth of our hearts and consciences, where the paths to follow are decided and where the fear of being different and acting differently reside. Though modern societies speak out strongly against all forms of discrimination, they often give way to others, among which is the social and cultural discrimination of Christians.”
Although there have been no high-profile cases of discrimination, issues such as conscientious objection to abortion and same-sex marriage rights are a concern in Portugal, which is also likely to legalise euthanasia. With a strong university tradition, Coimbra is a hotbed of left-wing activism.
The friars passed through Coimbra on their way to Morocco, where they began to preach openly until the Moorish king, in a fit of rage, beheaded them himself. Their bodies were returned to Portugal and their heads sent to Coimbra, where they were buried near the tomb of Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques.
Their remains were originally taken ashore in Lisbon, where the procession caught the eye of a young man, persuading him to become a Franciscan. He is known around the world as St Anthony of Padua.
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