Born in the early third century, Sixtus lived in a time of many changes in the Roman Empire.
In 257, Emperor Valerian issued a decree, which mandated Christian clergymen sacrifice to the pagan gods or die. As a result, many Christians were put to death, including Pope Steven I. Sixtus was then secretly consecrated as Steven's successor.
One of Sixtus's important contributions as Pope was to make peace with the Churches in Asia Minor and northern Africa, where some bishops held that baptisms conferred by heretics were not valid, in contradiction to Church policy in Rome. His predecessor had been stern in trying to correct these bishops, but Sixtus was loving, and he managed to restore friendly relations.
Soon after Sixtus became Pope, Emperor Valerian issued an even stronger decree against Christians, ordering the execution of all Christian clergymen. On August 6, 258, Sixtus was addressing the congregation at a liturgical service in the private cemetery of Praextextatus, which was believed to be a safe haven. Suddenly, imperial forces rushed in and seized the Pope.
It is said that Sixtus refused to attempt an escape, even when the opportunity presented itself, for fear of initiating a massacre of the congregation. Instead, he was either beheaded immediately or take to court for sentencing and then brought back and executed. He was buried across the road in the Cemetery of St. Callistus.
One of the Church's most highly venerated martyrs, Sixtus is the subject of a very famous painting, Raphael's Sistine Madonna, also called Our Lady and Child with SS Sixtus II and Barbara.
Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit,
You enabled St. Sixtus and his companions
to lay down their lives
for Your Word in witness to Jesus.
Give us the grace to believe in You
and the courage to profess our faith.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who lives and reigns with You
and the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.