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Monday, December 26, 2016

Angelus for Saint Stephen's Day

At noon today - the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr - the Holy Father, Pope Francis appeared at the window of his study in the Vatican Apostolic Palace to recite the Angelus with the faithful and with pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter's Square.

Greetings of His Holiness, Pope Francis
prior to the recitation of the Angelus

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today, the joy of Christmas fills our hearts, while the liturgy sees us celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the first martyr, inviting us to recall the witness which he has left us through his sacrifice.  His is the glorious testimony of Christian martyrdom suffered for love of Jesus Christ; a martyrdom which is continually present throughout the history of the Church, from Saint Stephen to those of our times.

 Today's gospel passage (cf Mt 10:17-22) speaks of this testimony.  Jesus speaks to his disciples about the punishment and persecution that they would encounter: You will be hated by all because of my name (Mt 10:22).  But why does the world persecute Christians?  The world hates Christians for the same reason that it hated Jesus, because He brought the light of God and the world preferred to hide its wicked works in the shadows.  Let us remember that Jesus himself, during the Last Supper, prayed to the Father and asked him to defend them from the evils of the spirit of worldliness.  There is opposition between the thinking of the Gospel and the thinking of the world.  To follow Jesus means to follow his light, which was lit on that night in Bethlehem, and to abandon the shadows of the world.

Stephen, the first martyr, filled with the Holy Spirit, was stoned because he confessed his faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  The First-born son of God who came into the world invites every believer to chose the path of light and life.  This is the meaning of his appearance among us.  By loving the Lord and obeying his voice, the deacon Stephen chose Christ, the source of Life and Light for every man.  By choosing truth, he also became at the same time, a victim of the mystery of iniquity that is present in the world.  But in Christ, Stephen was victorious!

Even today, the Church bears witness to the light and to truth, as she experiences persecution in various places, at times including the supreme proof of martyrdom.  How many of our brothers and sisters in faith suffer abuse, violence and are hated because of Jesus!  I say one thing to them: there are more martyrs today than there were in the early centuries of the Church.  When we read the history of the first centuries, here in Rome, we read about much cruelty toward Christians; I say to them: the same cruelty exists today, and in greater numbers, for Christians.  Today, we want to think about those who are suffering persecution, and we want to be close to them with our affection, our prayer and also our cries.  Yesterday, on Christmas day, persecuted Christians in Iraq celebrated Christmas in their destroyed cathedral: an example of faithfulness to the gospel.  Despite many trials and dangers, they courageously bear witness to the fact that they belong in Christ and to the gospel, and are committed to live it's truths for the sake of the smallest ones, the most overlooked persons, doing good to all people with no distinction, bearing witness in this way to charity and truth.

By making space within our hearts for the Son of God who gives himself to us at Christmas, we renew our joyous and courageous willingness to follow him faithfully as our only guide, persevering in our task of striving to live according to the mentality of the gospel and refuting the mentality of the leaders of this world.

Let us raise our prayer to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of martyrs, that she may guide us and support us always on our journey as we follow Jesus Christ, who we contemplate in the manger scene and who is the faithful witness of God the Father.

After the recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father continued:

I express my sincere condolences, having received the sad news of the Russian airliner which crashed into the Black Sea.  May the Lord console the beloved people of Russia and the families of the passengers who were aboard: journalists, crew and the excellent choir and orchestra of the Armed Forces.  May the Blessed Virgin Mary sustain the search efforts currently in progress.  In 2004, that choir was here in the Vatican to celebrate the 26th anniversary of the Pontificate of Saint John Paul II.  Let us pray for them.

Dear brothers and sisters,

In the climate of Christian joy that emanates from the Birth of Jesus, I greet you and thank you for your presence.

To all of you, who have come from Italy and from various other nations, I renew my wishes for peace and serenity: that these may be for you and for your families, days of joy and fraternity.  I greet and send my best wishes to all those whose names are Stephen and Stefania!

In recent weeks, I have received many messages of congratulations from various parts of the world.  It would be impossible for me to respond to them all one by one, therefore today I wish to express my gratitude to all of you, especially for the gift of your prayers.  Thank you with all my heart!  May the Lord reward you with his generosity!

Happy feast day!  Please, don't forget to pray for me.  Enjoy your lunch, and good bye.
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