Thousands of pilgrims visit the Franciscan Monastery in Široki Brijeg every year, about one hour distant from Međugorje (Medjugorje). On 7th February 1945 the Communist soldiers arrived and said “God is dead, there is no God, there is no Pope, there is no Church, there is no need of you, you also go out in the world and work.” The communists forgot that the Franciscans were working, most of the Franciscans were teaching in the adjoining school. Some of the Franciscans were famous professors and had written books. The communists asked them to remove their habits. The Franciscans refused. One angry soldier took the Crucifix and threw it on the floor. He said, “you can now choose either life or death.” Each of the Franciscans knelt down, embraced the Crucifix and said, “You are my God and my All.” The thirty Franciscans were taken out and slaughtered and their bodies burned in a nearby cave where their remains lay for many years. Today they are buried inside the Franciscan church. In our Gospel today Jesus said, “if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven.” The thirty Franciscan martyrs of Široki Brijeg are a powerful example of declaring oneself in the presence of others for Jesus. They lived something else Jesus also said in the Gospel, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”
Witnessing to Jesus and following God’s way helps others who are lacking courage to follow Jesus. One of the soldiers in the firing squad at Široki Brijeg later said, “Since I was a child, in my family, I had always heard from my mother that God exists. To the contrary, Stalin, Lenin, Tito had always asserted and taught each one of us: there is no God. God does not exist! But when I stood in front of the martyrs of Široki Brijeg and I saw how those friars faced death, praying and blessing their persecutors, asking God forgive the faults of their executioners, it was then that I recalled to my mind the words of my mother and I thought that my mother was right: God exists!” That soldier converted and now he has a son a priest and a daughter a nun. As I said, witnessing to Jesus and following God’s way also helps others in the crowd who are lacking the courage to follow Jesus.