On the Feast of St. Stephen

Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address before and after the recitation of the Angelus today in St. Peter’s Square, on the Feast of St. Stephen.

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Dear brothers and sisters, good morning

You are not afraid of the rain, you are good!

The liturgy prolongs the Solemnity of Christmas for 8 days: a joyous time for all the people of God! And in this second day of the octave, in the joy of Christmas is inserted the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. The book of the Acts of the Apostles presents him as a “man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (6,5), chosen with six others to serve the widows and the poor in the first community of Jerusalem. It also recounts his martyrdom: when, after a fiery speech that enraged the members of the Sanhedrin, he was dragged outside the walls of the city and stoned to death. Stephen died like Jesus, asking forgiveness for his murderers.

In the joyous season of Christmas, this commemoration may seem out of place. Christmas in fact is the feast of life and infuses in us feelings of serenity and peace; why disturb this enchantment with the memory of such an atrocious violence? In reality, in the eyes of faith, the feast of St. Stephen is in full harmony with the profound significance of Christmas. In martyrdom, violence is conquered by love, death by life. The Church sees in the sacrifice of the martyrs their “birth in heaven.” Therefore, we celebrate today the “nativity” of Stephen, which in depth springs from the Nativity of Christ. Jesus transforms the death of those who love Him into the dawn of a new life!

In the martyrdom of Stephen, the same confrontation between good and evil is reproduced, between hate and forgiveness, between meekness and violence, that culminated in the Cross of Christ. The memory of the first martyr comes as such, immediately, to dissolve the false image of Christmas: the fairy tale and mawkish image that does not exist in the Gospel! The liturgy brings us back to the authentic sense of the Incarnation, connecting Bethlehem to Calvary and reminding us that divine salvation implies the fight against sin, it passes through the narrow door of the Cross. This is the path that Jesus showed clearly to his disciples, as evidenced by today’s Gospel: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” (Mt. 10,22).

Therefore, today, we pray in a special way for Christians who are discriminated against for their witness to Christ and the Gospel. We are close to these brothers and sisters who, like St. Stephen, are unjustly accused and subjected to various types of violence. I am sure that, unfortunately, they are more numerous today than in the early days of the Church. There are so many! This occurs especially where religious freedom is not guaranteed or not fully developed. It also occurs in countries and areas who, on paper protect freedom and human rights, but where in fact believers, and especially Christians, find limitations and discrimination. I would like to ask you all to pray for a moment in silence for these brothers and sisters […] And let us entrust them to Our Lady [Hail Mary…] For a Christian, this is not surprising, because Jesus foretold it as an opportunity to give witness. However, on the civil level, injustice must be denounced and eliminated.

May Mary, Queen of Martyrs, help us to live Christmas with this ardor of faith and love that shines in St. Stephen and in all the martyrs of the Church.

[After the Angelus, the Holy Father said:]

I greet the families, the parish groups, the associations and the faithful of Rome, Italy and every part of the world. The visit in these days to the creche to admire Mary and Joseph with the Child, will arouse in all a generous commitment to love one another, so that within families and various communities this climate of understanding and brotherhood that is so beneficial to the common good may be lived.

Happy Christmas and have a good lunch. Goodbye!

[Translation by Junno Arocho Esteves]
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