Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The "age of martyrs is not yet over, even
today we can say, in truth, that the Church has more martyrs now than during
the first centuries. The Church has many men and women who are maligned through
calumny, who are persecuted, who are killed in hatred of Jesus, in hatred of
the faith. Some are killed because they teach the catechism; others are killed
because they wear the cross . . . Today, in many countries, they are maligned,
they are persecuted . . . they are our brothers and sisters who are suffering
today, in this age of martyrs."
For a second consecutive day, Pope Francis turned his thoughts to the
martyrs of our age, to the many Christians who suffer persecution in many parts
of the world. Yesterday, the pope's words were inspired by the passage in the
Acts of the Apostles that mentions the violence suffered by the first Christian
community in Jerusalem. Today, he spoke again about the Acts, talking about the
story of Stephen, underscoring the evil of calumny.
As he usually does, Francis celebrated Mass in the chapel of St
Martha. During the service, he spoke about the first martyr, who was a victim of calumny, Vatican Radio reported. "Calumny," he said,
"is worse than sin; it is the direct expression of Satan".
The Acts of the Apostles
presents Stephen, one of the deacons appointed by the disciples, dragged before
the Sanhedrin because of his witness to the Gospel, which came with
As the text says, "false witnesses" come before the Sanhedrin to
accuse Stephen. This was not a "fair fight, a fight between good men", Pope
Francis noted, because Stephen's enemies chose the path of a dirty fight, "the
path of calumny".
"We are all sinners; all of us. We all commit sins. But calumny is
something else. It is of course a sin, too, but it is something more. Calumny
aims to destroy God's work. Calumny comes from a very evil thing; it is born of
hatred. And hate is Satan's work. Calumny destroys God's work in people, in
their souls. Calumny uses lies to get ahead. And let us be in no doubt, eh?
Where there is calumny, there is Satan himself. "
By contrast, Stephen did not respond to falsehood with falsehood. "He
did not want to go that way to save himself. He looked to the Lord and obeyed
the law", in the peace and truth of Christ. This "is
what happens in the history of the Church", because from the first martyr
until today there have been numerous examples of those who have born witness to
the Gospel with great courage. Indeed,
the time of the martyrs is not over.
Ours "is an age with more martyrs than that of the first centuries,"
an age of "much spiritual turmoil". To illustrate it, the pope evoked the
image of a centuries-old Russian icon that shows Our Lady covering the people
of God with her mantle.
"We pray to Our Lady to protect us, and in times of spiritual turmoil
the safest place is under Our Lady's mantle. She is the mother who takes care
of the Church. And, in this age of martyrs, she is the protagonist, the
protagonist of protection. She is the Mother. [. . .] Let us say it with faith:
'The Church, Mother, is under your protection. Take care of the Church'!"