During his Angelus to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square today, the Holy Father spoke of the witness of the Church’s first martyr, St. Stephen, and how Christians are to welcome Jesus in their lives this holiday season.
“To truly welcome Jesus in our existence, and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is precisely the one indicated in this Gospel,” he said, adding that it involves bearing witness in humility, in silent service, and without fear of going against the current.
"Every Christian is called in every circumstance to be to live a life that is coherent with the faith he or she professes,” the Pope said.
The Pope explained that at times Christians may be called, as Saint Stephen was, to shed their own blood. Stephen, he explained, was chosen by the Apostles, together with six others, for the diaconate of charity in the community of Jerusalem, and became the first martyr of the Church.
"With his martyrdom, Stephen honored the coming into the world of the King of kings, offering to Him the gift of his own life," the Pope said, adding that in doing so, "he shows us how to live the fullness of the mystery of Christmas."
While admitting that following the Gospel is a demanding path, Francis reminded those gathered that they are called to do as St. Stephen did.
Recalling the Lord’s words on those who are hated for their faith in Christ, the Pope said that these words “do not disrupt” the celebration of Christmas, “but strip it of that false saccharine-sweetness that does not belong to it.”
When following the Gospel with fidelity and courage, the faithful receive the gift promised by the Lord to men and women of good will: the favor of God and His peace. This peace, he added, "is able to soothe the conscience of those who, through the trials of life, know to welcome the Word of God and observe it with perseverance to the end."
Turning to those who are discriminated against because of their witness to Christ, he said: “If you carry this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas, you are in the heart of Jesus and of the Church.”
The Holy Father also prayed that through the sacrifices of today's martyrs, there would be a strenghtening of “the commitment to recognize and concretely to ensure religious liberty — an inalienable right of every human person — in every part of the world.”
The 78-year-old Pope wished all gathered a peaceful Christmas and prayed that Saint Stephen sustain them and all people on their daily paths of life.
After the traditional Angelus prayer, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for all the Christmas letters he received and apologized for not being able to respond to each one. He also gave a special salute to those with the names Stefano or Stephania who celebrated the feast of their namesake.