Monday, December 26, 2016

Pope Francis: prayer, solidarity with suffering Christians

Pope Francis on Monday called for prayerful and concrete solidarity with Christians throughout the world suffering because of the faith.

The Holy Father’s appeal came in remarks ahead of the Angelus prayer on Monday, the Feast of St. Stephen the Deacon, who was the first Christian to give his life in witness to Christ.

“The protomartyr Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, was stoned because he confessed his faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” said Pope Francis. “The only begotten Son who comes into the world invites every believer to choose the path of light and life,” he continued. “This is the profound meaning of his coming among us: loving the Lord and obeying his voice, the deacon Stephen chose Christ, [who is] Life and Light for every man.”

Pope Francis went on to say, “By choosing the truth, he became at the same time the victim of the mystery of evil present in the world – but Christ has conquered.”

Pope Francis then spoke of the plight of Christians suffering all manner of adversity for the sake of the Gospel.

“Today too the Church, to bear witness to the light and the truth, is experiencing severe persecution in different places, up to the supreme test of martyrdom,” he said. “How many of our brothers and sisters in faith suffer abuse, violence, and are hated because of Jesus,” he reflected. “Today we want to think about them and be close to them with our affection, our prayer, and also our tears.”

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis said, “I'll tell you something: the martyrs of today are greater in number than those of the first centuries. When we read the history of the early centuries, here in Rome, we read about so much cruelty towards Christians.  I tell you, there is this same cruelty today, and in greater numbers with Christians.”

“Yesterday,” Pope Francis continued, “Christmas Day, the persecuted Christians in Iraq celebrated Christmas in their destroyed Cathedral. [Theirs] is an example of fidelity to the Gospel.”

“Despite trials and dangers,” he went on to say, “they bear witness with courage that they belong to Christ, and they live the Gospel, dedicated to the least, the most forgotten, doing good to all without distinction; they bear witness to charity in truth.”

The Holy Father concluded his remarks ahead of the traditional prayer of Marian devotion, with a call for renewed commitment to living the faith we profess as Christians.

“In making space within our heart to the Son of God who gives himself to us at Christmas,” he said, “let us renew the joyous and courageous willingness to follow him faithfully as our only guide, persevering in living according to the mind of the Gospel and refusing the mentality of the rulers of this world.”

Pope Francis then asked the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Martyrs, to intercede for us and for all Christians everywhere, asking her to accompany and sustain us always in our pilgrim way, as we live our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness to God the Father, and the one whom we contemplate in the crèche.

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