Pope Francis made an urgent appeal in a special Angelus message in St. Peter's Square yesterday on behalf of Christians who are being persecuted and even killed in the Near East and other parts of the world. The Pope's words came after a Christmas Day bombing of a Catholic Church and a Christian market in Baghdad, reportedly by anti-Christian Islamic militants. “We are close to those brothers and sisters who, like St. Stephen, are unjustly accused and subjected to violence of various kinds. This happens especially where religious freedom is still not guaranteed or not fully realized,” the Holy Father said.
The feast of St. Stephen, one of the first Christian deacons and the first martyr of the Christian faith, famously occurs on the second day of Christmas, December 26th. The Pope went on to explain that even in those countries that guarantee the freedom of religion "on paper," Christians often encounter abridgments of their liberties and freedoms and face discrimination.
Francis did go on to say that as Christians, we should not be surprised that these things would happen, because Jesus gave warning that they would. Even so, “injustice in the civil [sphere] must be denounced and eliminated.” Speaking again of the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, the Pope said that the feast was in keeping with the deeper meaning of Christmas. “In martyrdom, in fact, violence is overcome by love, death by life. The Church sees in the sacrifice of the martyrs their ‘birth’ into heaven. So on this day we celebrate the ‘birth’ of Stephen, which springs from the depths of the birth of Christ. Jesus turns the death of those who love Him into the dawn of new life!”