Pope: Saint Stephen, even now the Church experiences severe persecution up to the supreme test of martyrdom
In today's Angelus, Pope Francis said that martyrdom "continues to be present in the history of the Church, from Stephen to this day." For him, "The world hates Christians for the same reason it hated Jesus." The pontiff calls for closeness with "our tears" to those who now suffer martyrdom. “[T]oday’s martyrs are more numerous than those of the first centuries” with “the same cruelty”. A moment of silent prayer was held for the victims of the Russian plane crash in the Black Sea.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – 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 world."
"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.