The Community of San Egidio has had a long standing friendship with the Pallottine community in Argentina, when the first members arrived there they were welcomed for a time in the community at San Patricio in Belgrano, Buenos Aires. The late Saint John Paul II entrusted the Basilica of San Bartolomeo on the Tiber Island in central Rome to the San Egidio Community. The Community requested the Pallottine Community in Argentina to provide them with a significant item to form part of the memorial to the new martyrs which is housed in the Basilica. Fr. Tom O’Donnell, SAC, received from Msgr Guillermo Leaden, SDB, brother of the late Fr. Alfredo Leaden, a chalice which belonged to him and was used by the community in Belgrano, and it was considered that this would be a significant contribution to the memorial. The chalice, together with a paten, and a purificator specially prepared by Sr. Magdalena of the San Antonio de Padua Community in Mercedes, Buenos Aires, and embroidered with 5 red crosses and the letters SAC, was solemnly placed on the altar dedicated to the Martyrs of the Americas in the Basilica on 2nd of February. Monsignor Vicente Ojea, Bishop of San Isidro, Argentina, and President of the Argentine Episcopal Conference, presided at the Prayer Service, he was accompanied by the Vice-president of the Conference, Msgr Marcelo Colombo, Bishop of La Rioja, the Rector General of the Society Fr. Jacob Nampudakam, SAC, Fr. Juan Sebastian Velasco, SAC, Postulator of the Cause, and other Pallottines resident in Rome.
The history of the Sanctuary of the new martyrs is the following: “In 1999, in preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II instituted a “Commission of the New Martyrs” to investigate Christian martyrdom of the 20th Century. The commission worked for two years in the Basilica of San Bartolomeo and gathered almost 12,000 dossiers.
Andrea Riccardi, Founder of the San Egidio Community, introduced his work on more than 9,600 files in the archive and noted “I went into the large archive of the Commission of the New Martyrs where letters, reports and memoirs had arrived in Rome in the previous years from all parts of the world. I started to leaf through them. There were official letters from episcopal conferences from all over the world. There were also memoirs from simple groups of religious. As I read I became impassioned. There were thousands of stories of contemporary men and women, Christians who were killed because of what they were.”
After the Jubilee Year, Saint John Paul II wanted the Basilica to become the location of the Memorial of the New Martyrs. The proclamation was solemnly celebrated on October 12th 2002, in the presence of Cardinals Ruini, Kasper and George, and of Tesctist, the Orthodox Patriarch of Rumania; the large icon dedicated to the Witnesses of the Faith of the 20th century was placed on the high altar. On April 7th 2008, Pope Benedict XVI honoured the memory of the Witnesses of the Faith of the 20th and 21st centuries with a visit to the Community of San Egidio on its 40th anniversary. “The six altars in San Bartolomeo”, explained the Pope, “recall the Christians who fell under the totalitarian violence of Communism, of Nazism, those killed in America, Asia and Oceania, in Spain and Mexico, in Africa; we retrace ideally many painful events of the past century. Many of them fell while fulfilling the mission of the Church to evangelize; their blood was mixed with that of the native Christians to whom the faith was communicated.”
The website of the Basilica can be accessed at www.sanbartolomeo.org and the link to the Memorial can be founded there; it is also possible to take a virtual tour of the Basilica.