One day after Christmas, Pope Francis focuses on contemporary Christian martyrs

Pope Francis leading speaking at the Angelus one week ago. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“There are more martyrs in the world today than in the early centuries of Christianity,” Francis told thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square on December 26, the feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

Pope Francis recalled “the hard persecutions, even to the supreme test of martyrdom” that Christians are enduring in many parts of the world at this moment in history, and praised them for so courageously giving witness to “their belonging to Christ.” He expressed his personal closeness to them, praised their courage, and assured them of his prayers, saying he is praying for them.

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Departing from his prepared text, the Jesuit pope praised the courageous example given yesterday by Christians in Iraq who bravely attended mass on Christmas day in the ruins of their cathedral that was destroyed in the conflict in that country. He has often grieved in public for the sufferings of the Christians in Iraq, as well as in Syria, and he intends to visit Iraqi Christians, as soon as this is feasible. Last year he sent Cardinal Fernando Filoni, who was nuncio in Baghdad at the time of the war on Iraq, to convey his consolations and closeness to them, and he has sent them assistance too.

Addressing thousands of pilgrims from many countries gathered in St Peter’s Square at noon on this beautiful sunny day, Francis recalled “the glorious witness of Christian martyrdom, suffered for love of Jesus Christ” that has marked the history of the church from the time of St. Stephen to our own time.

The Argentine pope reminded his audience that Jesus “foretold the rejection and persecution” that his disciples would encounter, and recalled that Jesus told them: “You will be hated by all because of my name” (Mt 10:22).

Francis explained that “the world hates Christians for the same reason as it hated Jesus, because he brought the light of God and the world preferred the darkness to hide its evil deeds.” For this reason, he said, “there is opposition between the mentality of the Gospel and the worldly one. To follow Jesus means to follow his light, which was lit on the night of Bethlehem, and to abandon the darkness of the world.”

He recalled how the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, “was stoned because he confessed his faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” He chose to follow Christ, “the life and light of every person” and in doing so “he became at the same time a victim of the mystery of evil present in the world.” But, the pope added, “in Christ he won!”

In giving witness to Jesus today, the Christian church “experiences in different places hard persecution, even to the supreme test of martyrdom,” Francis said. “How many of our brothers and sisters in the faith suffer abuse, violence and are hated because of Jesus’ sake!” he added.

“Today we wish to think of them and to be close to them with our affection, our prayers and our tears. Notwithstanding the trials and dangers, they witness with courage their belonging to Christ and live the Gospel committing themselves in favor of the least, the most overlooked, doing good to all without distinction, witnessing to charity in truth,” the pope stated.  

At this Christmas time, Francis said, believers “renew” their “joyful and courageous will to follow Jesus faithfully as the only guide, persevering in living with the mentality of the Gospel and rejecting the mentality of those who dominate this world.” He concluded by praying that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and Queen of Martyrs, “may guide and sustain us on this journey.”

After imparting his blessing to all present, Francis called for prayers for all those who died when the Russian plane crashed over the Black Sea yesterday. He recalled that among those who died were the members of the Russian Army’s band which had played in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall for the 27th anniversary of the pontificate of St. John Paul II. He concluded his remarks by extending his condolences to the relatives and friends of the deceased and to “the beloved Russian people.”

As a postscript to his talk, Francis thanked all those across the world who had sent him Christmas greetings, and apologized that he could not respond to them individually because they were so numerous.

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Anthony Farina
11 months 2 weeks ago
The curia needs term limits! Cardinals and other members of the hierarchy who have never been a pastor or missionary should be required to serve at least 2-3 years overseas, preferably in a developing country to learn what it is like to live on the margins instead of in chic Roman apartments with a household staff. Francis is absolutely right that the curia needs reform; it also needs to reassess its mission as one that should be in lockstep with the Pontiff in spreading the Good News that Jesus preached during His very short time on earth. May God grant Francis the stamina to succeed and may we be with him every step of the way. What Francis wants is what the people want, a loving, forgiving, nonjudgmental church that welcomes everyone and places kindness and humility above pomp and circumstance.
Patrick Murtha
11 months 2 weeks ago
Anthony, For all of your desire to have a loving and forgiving and nonjudgmental church, you clearly are judgmental about the Curia. Your implication is that the majority have never served as pastors or missionaries, your implication is that they do not know how to live in--the word you want is--poverty. Poverty, remember, is not concerned with how much wealth one has, but how detached one is from all material things. And the spirit of poverty, the spirit of kindness and humility, can walk with pomp and circumstance--the humble and the kind man may use ceremony to show not his own glory but the glory of him he represents. Priests, for example, use golden vestments not to prove their own power, but to remind us of the awe of Christ; a bishop, and the bishop of bishops, the pope, is to be received with ceremony, with pomp and with circumstance, not because of who he is as a man but who he has become by ordination and consecration--another-Christ. In your brief response about what you think the people want and what the media tells us the pope wants, have you considered Christ want? That is the reform that is needed--to restore all things in Christ the King, as St. Pius X strongly not only preached but lived, as Leo XIII tried to instill in all levels of society, as Pius XII worked to achieve in both the rich and the poor, in so-called "developed" and "developing" and "under-developed" nations. Let me ask, in your reformed Curia, if the pontiff starts to preach a thing contrary to the Faith, should the Curia be in "lock step" with him? When the pontiff raises questions or makes statements that cast shadows of doubt among clergy, religious, and laity on matters of doctrine, should the Curia question his statements or walk "lock step" with him? I find it good that you would want the Church to be loving and forgiving but do you not also want a judging Church--that is, a Church that determines in sound judgment what is what is not in "lock-step" with the will of Christ, her spouse; that judges and informs her children about which fads and fashions promote virtue or vice, about the things that are good and those that are evil, that judges and condemns the evils and the heresies and promotes the good deeds and the doctrines? Do you not want a Church that acts like a mother and a doctor that heals the sick by telling them they are sick and showing them the path to health, even if that path be not what the sick want to hear? Do you want a church that warns about the path to hell, or would have the church be a flatterer to say what pleases only and does not hurt, to tell all men that they are healthy and going to heaven? And I ask you, how would term-limits solve anything? Term limits, like life, eliminate those good in their position as well as the bad in their position. People tend to think that term-limits are the answer to any position of authority. Do you want your doctor to have term limits? Perhaps teachers ought to have term-limits? Perhaps judges and justices ought to be have term-limits? Perhaps...perhaps...perhaps.... I would rather allow the cockle to grow without man-made term-limits than a good man be limited one day of good work by those man-made term-limits. Merry Christmas, PM
Bruce Snowden
11 months 1 week ago
The other day there was a piece on the internet on the most hated religious group in 2016, namely Christians. It was stated that in 2016, every six minutes a Christian was killed because of Faith in Christ. This encompasses not only Catholics, but Orthodox, Anglicans and different Protestant Christians. It’s been said, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church!" I see this as meaning ALL martyrs, not only Catholic martyrs. Protestant blood shed for Christ is as sacred and holy as Catholic and Orthodox blood shed for Christ! As a result, I would like to see and respectfully urge Holy Father Francis to consider the possibly of formally declaring all Christians who have shed their blood because they believe in Christ, to be Christian martyrs, canonizing all, a first and only of its kind. I would like to see this as a public acknowledgment of Christian heroism, intended by extension to include Apostolic times, to modern times to until Christ comes again. I would like to see a Solemnity established, wherein all these martyrs present and to come, are liturgically and ecumenically honored and celebrated annually. Is this nothing other than a pietistic flight of fancy, or it is somehow sinewed to Paul’s assertion, validating it, of “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism?” Scholars should mull it over, burying, or implementing it.
soniya sweety
8 months 1 week ago

thank you very much sharing amazing articles here. I really enjoyed reading your articles. keep going like this with many more interesting posts.
THANK YOU FOR SHARING
APK

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