Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Let us think today about all the Christians who give their life for their faith, says pope

“Let us think about all the Christians persecuted in the world who give their life for their faith. The pope does not forget. May God fill them with courage and strength; may the Virgin Mary support them.” 

In the day the Catholic Church remembers Saint Stephen, the “perfect martyr” and a “man of prayer and evangelisation”, a day after attacks in Nigeria cost the lives of at least 39 people, Benedict XVI dedicated an Angelus to the martyrs, mixing past and present.

“Innocent blood” was spilled again on Christmas day, a day that “elicits in us, even more strongly, a prayer to God to stop violence and death and bring about justice and peace.”

“It is with deep sadness that I heard the news about the attacks on the day of Jesus’ birthday,” the pope said after the Marian prayer, “which have brought grief and sorrow to some Nigerian churches. I wish to express my sincere and warm sympathy to Christians and all those hit by this absurd act. I urge everyone to pray to the Lord on behalf of the many victims. I appeal to every group to help re-establish security and calm. Let me repeat here and now, violence leads only to pain, destruction and death. Respect, reconciliation and love are the way to achieve peace.”

As Benedict XVI’s thoughts focused on the martyrs, he remembered the first martyr, Saint Steven, and all those “who even today in various parts of the world bear witness to the faith amid persecution”. After the Angelus, he greeted in French, English, German, Spanish and Polish the 20,000-strong crowd that had gathered in Saint Peter’s Square.

Before the Marian prayer, the pope had also mentioned the first martyr, and all the deacons involved in evangelisation. Quoting from the Acts of the Apostles, he said, “Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people (6:8).”

Speaking about Saint Stephen, “Saint Gregory of Nyssa said, “He was an honest man and full of spirit. A good soul, he fed the poor and silenced the enemies of truth with the liberty of his words and the strength of the Holy Spirit (Sermo in Sanctum Stephanum II: GNO X, 1, Leiden 1990, 98). A man of prayer and evangelisation, Stephen, whose name means ‘crown’, received the gift of martyrdom from God.”

“As in ancient times, adhering with sincerity to the Gospel today may require sacrificing one’s life,” the pope said. “’Many Christians around the world are exposed to persecution and sometimes to martyrdom. However, the Lord reminds us that “whoever endures to the end will be saved (Mt, 10:22). Holy Mary, Queen of martyrs, our plea goes to you to preserve goodwill, especially towards those who hinder us. Especially, let us place the deacons of the Church in the hands of divine mercy, so that they ‘feel themselves called to cooperate, in accordance with their specific mission, in this task of evangelization’ (cfr Exhort. ap. postsin. Verbum Domini, 94).”