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Otranto Martyrs: exceptional witness of fidelity to Christ


(Vatican Radio) On Sunday 12 May, Pope Francis will preside at a Mass for the Canonization of Blessed Antonio Primaldo and Companions; Blessed Laura di Santa Caterina da Siena Montoya y Upegui, virgin and foundress of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and St Catherine of Siena; Blessed Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, co-foundress of the Congregation of the Handmaids of St Margaret Mary (Alacoque) and the Poor.

The announcement of the canonization was made at a consistory on 11 February – a consistory made historic by Benedict XVI’s announcement that he would resign the papacy.

Among those being canonized on Sunday are 800 martyrs who gave their lives for Christ in 1480 – Antonio Primaldo and his Companions. These were the Martyrs of Otranto. Dr. Donald Prudlo, associate professor of Medieval History at Jacksonville State University, Alabama, spoke with Christopher Wells about their dramatic story:

“Mehmed II was one of the most powerful and successful emperors in Ottoman Turkish history. He had taken the impregnable city of Constantinople in 1453, and had pacified the Balkan regions. By the 1470s Mehmed 'The Conqueror' was preparing a death blow to Europe. His fleet sailed the Mediterranean without challenge. Having taken 'New Rome' he set his sights on 'Old Rome.' In order to test the resolve of Christian Europe he sent an exploratory raiding party in 1480. Its target was the small maritime town of Otranto in far south Italy. During this expedition thousands of people were massacred, in what was really an attempt to instill terror into the inhabitants of the peninsula. After the city fell, its civil and religious leaders were either beheaded or sawn into pieces. Eight hundred men of the town were offered the choice between conversion to Islam or death. Led by the tailor Antonio Primaldi, acting as spokesman for the group, they were beheaded, one by one, on a hill outside town while their families watched.

“The significance of their sacrifice was clear. Antonio and his townsmen had, in reality, saved Europe – their bravery gave Christendom time both to regroup, and to realize the gravity of the threat. Mehmed II died the next year, at the age of only 49, frustrating Ottoman plans for expansion.

“The Martyrs of Otranto are an exceptional testimony of fidelity to Christ, even in the midst of terrible sufferings. Simple lay Christians, defeated, leaderless, yet bound by their profession of faith in a hostile world, the Martyrs will receive the greatest honor bestowed by the Church, canonization as saints this Sunday, 12 May.”

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