The people we honor today had one thing in common: they gave up their lives for Christ. They were martyred because they were followers of the Lord Jesus.
By the year 64, Emperor Nero's cruelty and abuse of people was too much. When a fire broke out in Rome on July 16, the emperor who was at his seaside villa in Anzio was informed that the blaze was out of control. Instead of returning to Rome immediately, he began composing a song that compared Rome to the burning city of Troy.
The people then realized that the emperor himself was responsible for the fire as he had plans to rebuild the city. The fire raged on for nine days and as two-thirds of Rome lay in ruin, and more than a million people lost their lives, the anger and hatred of the people began to grow.
Nero feared that his people would turn against him and decided to blame the fire on the Christians. By that time, the Jews who were followers of Jesus had begun to separate themselves from the main Jewish community.
Tacitus, a well-known historian, wrote that the Christians suffered cruel deaths. Some were fed to wild beasts while the Romans eagerly watched the sport. Others were tied to posts and burnt alive, becoming human torches at evening banquets while some were used to light the dark Roman streets. Many others were crucified in public places like gardens and the circus.
The exact number of heroes is not known, but their gift of witness as they gladly gave up their lives for Jesus made a lasting impact on the hearts of people. Nero's was the first Roman emperor to torture Christians, but he was not the last.
And the more the Church suffered, the bigger it grew because their faith in Jesus was so strong that they were happy to lose their lives for Him. The martyrs paid this high price so that all who would come after them could also be lead to become Christians and experience the richness of living in the grace and love of God.
In our prayer today, we offer thanks to the Father for the martyrs of Rome and ask God to help us live lives that are holy and pleasing to Him.