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Martyrs of Abitene

A translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave during the closing Mass of the 24th Italian National Eucharistic Congress, in the esplanade of Marisabella

This Eucharistic congress, which comes to a close today, intended to present Sunday again as a "weekly Easter," expression of the identity of the Christian community and center of its life and mission. The theme chosen, "We Cannot Live without Sunday," takes us back to the year 304, when Emperor Diocletian prohibited Christians, under pain of death, to possess the Scriptures, to meet on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist and to build premises for their assemblies. In Abitene, a small village in what today is Tunis, 49 Christians, meeting in the home of Octavius Felix, were taken by surprise on a Sunday while celebrating the Eucharist, defying the imperial prohibitions. Arrested, they were taken to Carthage to be interrogated by the proconsul Anulinus.

Significant, in particular, was the response given to the proconsul by Emeritus, after being asked why he had violated the emperor's order. He said: "Sine dominico non possumus," we cannot live without meeting on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. We would not have the strength to face the daily difficulties and not succumb. After atrocious tortures, the 49 martyrs of Abitene were killed. Thus, they confirmed their faith with the shedding of blood. They died but they were victorious; we now remember them in the glory of the risen Christ.

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