In 257, when Sixtus became pope, being a Christian had suddenly become dangerous. For a while, Emperor Valerius had been appreciative of Christians, and many of his high officials were Christians. But suddenly he accused Christians of being enemies of the government. In the midst of this, Pope Sixtus struggled for a year to guide the Church through many difficulties, some dealing with false teachers, some with Baptism.
Christians in Rome gathered for the Eucharist in the catacombs—damp, dark tunnels used as underground cemeteries. They would change the location or time of their celebrations to try to keep from being found. One day during Mass in the catacombs, Valerius’s soldiers appeared. In view of the community, the soldiers beheaded Sixtus and four deacons who were assisting him. The men were killed simply because they were Christians.
Have the students write why the Eucharist can be a source of strength.
Challenge the students to find examples of leadership in the lives of recent popes: John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.
Excerpted from Christ Our Life, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: Pope Sixtus II by Sandro Botticelli, 15th century. Public Domain via Wikimedia.