12/26/2013, 00.00
VATICAN

Pope: The Feast of St Stephen the first martyr dissolves the "fairy tale" image of Christmas

In today's Angelus, Pope Francis calls for a moment of silence and prayer for persecuted Christians. "There are more today than in the early days of the Church." It is necessary to witness and report violations of religious freedom and discrimination. For the pontiff, it is also necessary to contemplate the crèche as an "atmosphere of understanding and brotherhood" that is "so beneficial to the common good" may grow "in families and communities".

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The Feast Day of Saint Stephen is "in full harmony with the deeper meaning of Christmas" and dissolves "the false picture of Christmas as a mushy fairy tale that does not exist in the Gospel," Pope Francis said in today's Angelus before the many pilgrims in St Peter's Square, on the day when the Church remembers its first martyr.

"In the joyful atmosphere of Christmas," the pope noted, "this commemoration might seem out of place. Christmas in fact is the celebration of life and gives us feelings of serenity and peace. Why upset its charm with the memory of such brutal violence? In reality, from the perspective of faith, the Feast of St Stephen is in full harmony with the deeper meaning of Christmas. In martyrdom in fact, violence is overcome by love, death by life. The Church sees in the sacrifice of the martyrs their "birth in heaven." Let us therefore celebrate today Stephen's "birth", which deeply stems from the birth of Christ. Jesus transforms the death of those who love him into the dawn of new life! The same clash between good and evil, between hatred and forgiveness, between gentleness and violence, which culminated in the Cross of Christ, is played out in Stephen's martyrdom. Thus, the memory of the first martyr comes immediately to dissolve the false image of Christmas as a mushy fairy tale that does not exist in the Gospel! The liturgy brings us back to the true meaning of the Incarnation, connecting Bethlehem to Calvary, and reminding us that divine salvation involves a struggle against sin through the narrow gate of the Cross."

For the pope, Saint Stephen's martyrdom is the reason why "we are praying today especially for Christians who suffer discrimination because of their witness to Christ and the Gospel."

"We are close to those brothers and sisters who, like Saint Stephen, are unjustly accused and subjected to violence of various kinds. This happens especially where religious freedom is still not guaranteed or not fully realised. In my opinion, there are more today than in the early days of the Church. As it happens however, even in countries and places that protect freedom and human rights on the paper, believers, especially Christians, encounter limitations or discrimination."

"For these brothers and sisters, I would ask you to pray, for a moment, in silence, everyone," the pope said off the cuff. After a brief moment of silence, he continued, saying, "Let us entrust them to Mary," and called on everyone to say a Hail Mary for them.

"For Christians," he added, "this is not surprising because Jesus foretold it as an opportunity to bear witness. Nevertheless, injustice must be legally reported and eliminated."

"May Mary Queen of Martyrs help us experience Christmas with the ardour of faith and love that shines in Saint Stephen and all the martyrs of the Church," the pope said in concluding.

After the Marian prayer, Francis greeted those present. Earlier he had praised them because they had not "been afraid of the rain," which was falling on the city.

"May the visit at this time to the crèche to see Mary and Joseph and the Child arouse in everyone a generous commitment to love one another so that within families and communities people may experience an atmosphere of understanding and brotherhood that is so beneficial to the common good," said the pope as he spoke about the pilgrims who come to Rome from all over the world to visit the Neapolitan crèche in St Peter's Square.

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