26-December-2013 -- Vatican Information Service |

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THE POPE ASKS FOR PRAYERS FOR PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS

Vatican City, 26 December 2013 (VIS) - At midday today, the feast of St. Stephen, protomartyr, the Holy Father prayed the Angelus with the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square despite the rain. After commending their courage in facing the bad weather, he narrated the story of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the deacon who was stoned to death after a speech which provoked the enmity of members of the Sanhedrin, and who died asking forgiveness for his executioners. "In the joyous Christmas season, this commemoration may seem out of place. Christmas in fact is the feast of life and infuses us with feelings of serenity and peace; why break the spell with the memory of such atrocious violence? In fact, in the eyes of faith, the Feast of St. Stephen is in full harmony with the profound significance of Christmas. Indeed, in martyrdom, violence is conquered by love, death by life. The Church sees, in the sacrifice of the martyrs, their 'birth in heaven'. Therefore, today we celebrate the 'nativity' of St. Stephen, which springs fundamentally from the Nativity of Christ. Jesus transforms the death of those who live Him into the dawn of a new life!" In the martyrdom of St. Stephen we see the reproduction of "the same confrontation between good and evil, between hate and forgiveness, between meekness and violence, that culminated in the Cross of Christ. The memory of the first martyr immediately dispels the false image of Christmas: the mawkish fairytale image that does not exist in the Gospel! The liturgy restores to us the authentic meaning of the Incarnation, connecting Bethlehem to Calvary and reminding us that divine salvation implies the struggle against sin, passing through the narrow door of the Cross. This is the path that Jesus clearly showed to His disciples". "Therefore, today we pray in particular for Christians who suffer discrimination for their witness to Christ and the Gospel. We are close to those brothers and sisters who, like St. Stephen are unjustly accused and subjected to violence in various forms. I am certain that, unfortunately, there are more of them now today than in the early days of the Church. This occurs above all where religious freedom is not yet guaranteed or fully developed. However, it also takes place in countries and regions where, although freedom and human rights are formally protected, in practice believers, and especially Christians, encounter limitations and discrimination. I would like to ask you all to pray for a moment in silence for these brothers and sisters. … And let us entrust them to Our Lady". Following the recitation of the Marian prayer, Pope Francis commented, "This is not surprising for a Christian, as Jesus foretold it as an opportunity to give witness. However, on a civil level, injustice must be denounced and eliminated".

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