Pope Francis deviated from his prepared remarks to make this point during his address before the recitation of the Angelus prayer to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square Monday afternoon, on the Feast of St. Stephen.
Noting that the joy of Christmas fills our hearts also today and the Liturgy has us celebrate the martyrdom of the first martyr Saint Stephen, Francis stressed that faithful are invited “to receive the testimony that he left us with his sacrifice.”
It is, Francis noted, the “glorious testimony” of Christian martyrdom that continues to be present in the history of the Church, from Stephen down to our days.
Today, Francis said, in order to render witness to the light and truth, the Church is experiencing harsh persecutions in different places, to the supreme trial of martyrdom.
“How many of our brothers and sisters in the faith are suffering abuses, violence and hatred because of Jesus!” Francis said.
More Than Early Centuries
“I will tell you something,” Pope Francis deviated from his prepared text to say, “today’s martyrs are greater in number than those of the first centuries. When we read the history of the first centuries, here at Rome, we read about so much cruelty to Christians.”
“I tell you,” he added, “there is the same cruelty towards Christians today, and in greater number.” Francis invited those present to think of those that suffer persecution, and to be close to them with affection, prayer and tears.
Courage in Iraq
“Yesterday, Christmas Day,” Francis recalled, “Christians persecuted in Iraq celebrated Christmas in their destroyed Cathedral: it is an example of fidelity to the Gospel.”
“Despite the trials and dangers, they witness courageously their belonging to Christ and they live the Gospel by being committed to the least, the neglected, doing good to all with distinctions, thus witnessing charity in truth.”
Urging everyone to make room in their hearts for the Son of God who gives Himself to us at Christmas, Francis called on faithful to renew their “joyful and courageous will to follow Him.”
Pope Francis concluded, inviting everyone to pray to Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Martyrs, that she may guide and support us always in our path.
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Full Translation: https://zenit.
Post-Angelus Remarks: https://zenit.org/