Christians need the heroic witness of those who stand up to hatred even when it means giving up their lives, Pope Francis has said.

At Rome’s Basilica of St Bartholomew, a shrine to modern martyrs, Pope Francis presided over an evening prayer service honouring Christians killed under Nazism, communism, dictatorships and terrorism.

“These teach us that with the force of love and with meekness one can fight arrogance, violence and war, and that with patience peace is possible,” the Pope said in his homily in the small basilica on Rome’s Tiber island.

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis said he wanted to add to the martyrs remembered at St Bartholomew by including “a woman – I don’t know her name – but she watches from heaven”.

The Pope said he had met the woman’s husband, a Muslim, in Lesbos, Greece, when he visited a refugee camp there in 2016. The man told the Pope that one day terrorists came to their home. They saw his wife’s crucifix and ordered her to throw it on the ground. She refused and they slit her throat.

The Pope said: “Now it’s that man, a Muslim, who carries this cross of pain.”

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