Christians were given a choice by Emperor Decius;renounce Christ or be executed. Now most Christians were glad to lay down their lives,but some Christians,being regular human beings like you or I,renounced their faith for fear of their life. Once the persecution died down,these lapsed Christians wanted to return to the Church.Some members of the Church were angry with them,passing judgement and forbidding communion. Some suggested a second baptism to clear them of their sin. Pope Stephen showed much compassion and leniency and suggested that no re-baptism take place,and only penance and reconciliation be required. There was also the question of previously lapsed priests and the baptisms they performed after they returned to the Church. Pope Stephen upheld the Church’s belief that the power of the Sacrament is much more powerful than any one human being,so if the priest was of questionable character(then and now),the baptism was still valid. This was also one of the first instances where the Bishop of Rome was able to assert his authority over other regions. Bishops as far away as Africa respected the Pope’s decision on baptism. Still to this day when we say the Nicene Creed;”We believe in ONE baptism for the forgiveness of all sins”,that’s due to the work and compassion of Popes like Cornelius,Lucius and Stephen.
Pope Lucius was the Bishop of Rome for less than a year,but his personal legacy lives on to today through the story of his relics. St. Lucius became the patron saint of the Danish region of Zealand during the middle ages,and the Roskilde Cathedral needed both a relic and protection from “demons” and only the skull of Pope Lucius I would do. With the permission of Pope Paschal II,the skull of Lucius was brought to Denmark around the year 1100. Turns out the the Danish people are poor caretakers of valuable Catholic property because after the Reformation and a Danish conversion to the Lutheran faith,the skull would find its way to the freaky and morbid collection of King Frederick III in Copenhagen,and there it would remain until moved to the St. Ansgar’s Cathedral in 1908 as the propery of the Copenhagen National Museum. Carbon testing done this century puts the owner of the skull as a man who lived around the year 400,over 100 years after the death of our Pope Lucius. Somewhere along the way,those crazy Danes misplaced the freaking head of a Pope. Which begs the question;How in the world do you just have so many skulls laying around to mix them up? Did a doofus intern leave it in a carriage 200 years ago and scramble to replace it with some generic garden variety skull? Is Pope Lucius an unwitting Hamlet prop in a Denmark dinner theatre?? Those pesky Danes,this is why we can’t have nice things.
After the death of St.Fabian there wasn’t a Pope for over a year as Emperor Decius made it impossible for Christians to elect a new leader. In 251 the Emperor went to war with the Goths,and as they say; when the cat’s away….ummm….the Christians will elect a new Pope. Unwillingly elected,Cornelius had to deal with a new schism of the Church that brought a new Anti-Pope named Novatian. Cornelius wrote a great deal of letters,many of which still survive. In one letter he gives a census of Christians in Rome at that time(around 50,000,out of over 800,000 Romans),and in another letter he mentions the office of Exorcist(the first time this word is mentioned in Catholic history). Emperor Decius was killed in battle,and replaced with the equally jerky Emperor Trebonianus Gallus. The new Emperor blamed a plague on those pesky Christians and exiled Cornelius in 253,and the Pope succumbed to the plague soon after.
St. Cornelius somehow has a huge following in Germany and during the middle ages he was one of the four Holy Marshals of God to pray to during illness and disease. His is also the patron saint of German lovers,the patron saint of cows and the patron saint of ear aches so yeah,he is all over the map for patron saints of the strangest variety of things. His head(!)is on display in the town of Kornelimünster,Germany.
Fabian was a Roman born farmer and Christian who came into town to join the crowd that was watching as the clergy struggled to elect a new Bishop. A layperson(a regular member of the Church),Fabian was unnoticed in the back of the crowd until a dove descended from above and perched on top of his head. Seeing this as a sign from God,the clergy and the crowd of Christians immediately and unanimously proclaimed Fabian the new Bishop! A symbol of peace was fitting as his reign was largely peaceful itself and he worked with the friendly rule of Emperor Philip to help bring back the body of Pope Pontian for proper burial,ended the Church schism caused by Anti-Pope Hippolytus and expanded Christianity into Gaul(which is modern day France and Belgium).
It was not to last. Emperor Decius came to power in 249 and began a new Rome-wide persecution of Christians. He demanded that Christians deny Christ and offer up a sacrifice to a pagan idol in front of imperial officials. Those that refused were arrested and executed. Fabian was one of the first to refuse. He was buried in the Catacombs of Callixtus until his body was moved to a tomb in the Church of St.Sebastian by Pope Clement XI in the 1700s. You can still view his original grave in Rome and his feast day is January 20th. Always be ready,you never know when God will choose you to do his work. Pope Fabian was more than ready.