Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims in St Peter’s Square in his Angelus address, the day after Christmas, which the Church dedicates to the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen.
As was the case in latter’s time, "Today too the Church, to bear
witness to light and truth, is experiencing severe persecution in
different places, up to the supreme test of martyrdom. How many of our
brothers and sisters in faith suffer abuse, violence, and are hated
because of Jesus," noted the pope.
"I tell you one thing,” he said, “today’s martyrs are more numerous
than those of the first centuries. When we read the story of the early
centuries here in Rome, we read about so much cruelty toward Christians.
I say there is the same cruelty today and more against Christians."
"Today,” he added, “let us think about them and be close to them with
our affection, our prayer and our tears. Yesterday, Christmas Day,
Iraq’s persecuted Christians celebrated in their destroyed cathedral.
This is an example of fidelity to the Gospel.”
Yet, “Despite trials and dangers, they bear witness with courage that
they belong to Christ and they live the Gospel, dedicated to the last,
the forgotten, doing good to everyone without distinction, bearing
witness to charity in truth."
"Martyrdom,” Francis said, “continues to be present in the history of
the Church, from Stephen to this day." Indeed, "The world,” the pope
explained, “hates Christians for the same reason it hated Jesus because
He brought the light of God and the world prefers darkness to hide its
wicked deeds. For this reason, the mindset of the Gospel and that of the
world are in opposition. To follow Jesus means to follow his light,
which came on the night of Bethlehem, and abandon the darkness of the
"Let us remember that Jesus himself prayed to the Father to protect us from the evil spirit of the world".
"The protomartyr Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, was stoned because
he confessed his faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The only
begotten Son who comes into the world to invite every believer to choose
the path of light and life. 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. 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!"
"In making room within our heart for the Son of God who gives himself
to us at Christmas, let us renew the joyous and courageous willingness
to follow him faithfully as the only guide, persevering in living
according to the mindset of the Gospel and refusing the mindset of the
rulers of this world.
“To the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Martyrs, we raise our
prayer, so that she can always guide and sustain us in our journey of
following Jesus Christ, whom we contemplate in the grotto of the
nativity scene cave and who is the faithful witness of God the Father. "
After the Marian prayer, before the greetings, the pontiff mentioned
the tragedy of the Russian plane that crashed yesterday in the Black Sea
and called for a moment of silent prayer.
The victims, the pope noted, included members of the Russian Armed
Forces choir and its orchestra, which performed once at the Vatican, on
the 26th anniversary of the pontificate of Saint John Paul II.