Here’s my post for the Evangelium Institute Blog on the Memorial of Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian.
The story of Pope St. Cornelius and of St. Cyprian of Carthage is a story about persecution, courage, and truth. For me, though, it’s also a story about the importance of unity and mercy in the Church. You see, the Emperor Decius ordered the first large-scale and organized persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. As a result, Christians found themselves without a pope. Pope St. Fabian was martyred on January 20th, 250, but no one wanted to take the chair of St. Peter since it would clearly result in a horrible death. These were very difficult times.
So it was that, well over a year after the death of the previous pope, in March of 251 a priest named Cornelius came forward willing to be the twenty-first pope. He was, by his own admission, not the brightest man in Rome. But he was clearly courageous, willing to suffer death at the hands of the empire, and he had the opportunity to test this courage right out of the gate though this first test came from within the Church not out.
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