The “first martyrs” of Rome, whom we celebrate today on the Church’s calendar, were the first Christians persecuted en masse by the Emperor Nero in the year 64, before the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul. Nero was widely believed to have caused the fire that burned down much of Rome in the same year. He blamed the fire on the Christians and put many of them to death.
Today, the site of Nero’s Circus, also the location of St. Peter’s martyrdom, is marked by the Square of the Roman Protomartyrs in the Vatican, next to St. Peter’s Basilica.
These martyrs were called the “Disciples of the Apostles” and their firmness in the face of their gruesome deaths was a powerful testimony that led to many conversions in the early Roman Church.
For reflection: We need the faith of others to help us when we are in real need. That is why we often ask others to pray for us or they ask us to pray for them. That is why it is important to remember that we can carry others (and their needs) to the Lord and we can be carried by them to the Lord as well. It was the faith of our parents and of our Godparents, after all, that took us to the font for Baptism. As babies, we had no faith of our own at that time. We began our lives as Christians carried by the faith of others!
In the course of our adult lives, we find ourselves still needing the faith of others to keep our own relationship with the Lord alive. Indeed, we are always very interdependent when it comes to our relationship with the Lord. As we grow toward the Lord, we help others to do so as well. As we grow away from Him, we make it more difficult for others to grow toward Him. In a very profound sense, we depend on each other on the pilgrimage of life. This remains true even after others have died. It is why we pray for the good intercession of the Holy Martyrs today. In that sense, our own relationship with the Lord, or lack of it, while very personal, is never purely private – it always has an impact on others.