By editor - 27 December, 2013
Pope Francis made a heartfelt appeal for persecuted Christians during his address for the feast of St Stephen, the first martyr of the Church.
Speaking ahead of the recitation of the Angelus in St Peter’s Square on Thursday, the Pope told pilgrims, “In martyrdom, violence is conquered by love, death by life.”
Noting that some may think this feast of martyrdom out of place the day after Christmas, the Pope told the faithful that in reality, the Feast of St Stephen “is in full harmony with the profound significance of Christmas.”
“The Church sees in the sacrifice of the martyrs their ‘birth in heaven’”, he said.
Therefore, we celebrate today the ‘nativity’ of Stephen, which in depth springs from the Nativity of Christ. Jesus transforms the death of those who love Him into the dawn of a new life!
The memory of St Stephen’s death, he continued, dissolves the false, fairy tale image of Christmas. His death is a reminder that divine salvation passes “through the narrow door of the Cross.”
Pope Francis then prayed for those discriminated against for giving witness to Christ in the world.
“I am sure that, unfortunately, they are more numerous today than in the early days of the Church. There are so many!” he exclaimed.
Religious persecution, he noted, occurs not only in countries where freedom is not guaranteed, but also in countries where human rights are guaranteed ‘on paper’.
“For a Christian, this is not surprising, because Jesus foretold it as an opportunity to give witness. However, on the civil level, injustice must be denounced and eliminated,” he said.
Prior to the recitation of the Angelus, Pope Francis led the faithful gathered in a moment of silent prayer followed by a Hail Mary for those suffering religious persecution in the world.