Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "In the trials accepted because of one's faith, violence is defeated by love, death by life," said Pope Francis on the day the Church remembers the first martyr of its history, Saint Stephen. The pontiff's teaching came as commentary on today's Gospel (Matthew, 10: 17-22), in which one can read, "You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved"(Mt, 10:22).
"These words of the Lord," the Holy Father noted, "do not unsettle the celebration of Christmas, but they do strip it of that false sugar-coating that does not belong to it. . . . To accept truly Jesus in our lives and prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path [that must be followed] is that indicated by this Gospel, which is to bear witness to Jesus in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current or paying in person. If not everyone is called to shed his or her blood, like Saint Stephen, every Christian however is required to be coherent at all times with the faith he or she professes."
"Coherence," the pope said departing from his prepared remarks, "is a gift to ask from the Lord: that of being like Jesus."
Turning his attention to those who are persecuted today because of their faith, the pope went to say that "Today, let us pray especially for those who are discriminated against, persecuted and killed for bearing witness to Christ. I would say to each of them, if you wear this cross with love, you have entered the mystery of Christmas; you are in the heart of Christ and the Church. Let us also pray so that, thanks to the sacrifice of today's many, many martyrs, the commitment to recognise and concretely achieve religious freedom is strengthened in every part of the world. This is an inalienable right of every human person."
After celebrating the Marian prayer with tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered in St Peter's Square, the pope reiterated his "desire for peace" during the Christmas holidays and thanked all those who sent "greetings from Rome, Italy and all over the world." People responded shouting, "Best wishes!"
"Since I cannot answer to everyone," he said in concluding, "today I express my heartfelt thanks to everyone, especially for the gift of prayer. A heartfelt thank you! May the Lord reward you with his generosity."
The pontiff also extended his many good wishes "to all those who are named Stephen or Stephanie".
Finally, he added, "Do not forget: Christian coherence, i.e. think and live as a Christian; do not think like a Christian and live like a pagan."