The Pontiff pointed out how the celebration of the Feast of the martyr St. Stephen on the day after Christmas, “can surprise us, because it strikes the contrast between the peace and joy of Bethlehem and the drama of Stephen, stoned to death in Jerusalem in the first persecution against the newly born Church.”
The Pope also noted that, “St. Stephen was the first to follow the footsteps of Christ with martyrdom; dying like the Divine Teacher, forgiving and praying for his executioners (cf Acts 7,60).”
Moreover, he explained that during the first four centuries of the Church, when all of the Saints were martyrs, “their deaths were not instilled with fear or sadness, but with a spiritual enthusiasm which is always aroused in new Christians.”
“For believers, the day of death, and even more so the day of martyrdom, is not the end of everything, but the “passing” into immortal life, it is the day of their final birth, in Latin “dies natalis.”
“We can understand then, the link which exists between the ‘dies natalis’ of Christ and the ‘dies natalis’ of St. Stephen. If Jesus was not born on earth, mankind would not be able to be born in heaven. Because Christ is born, we are able to be “reborn!” exclaimed the Holy Father.
In conclusion the Pontiff entrusted to Mary “the many who are persecuted and suffering, in various ways, for their testimony and service to the Gospel.”
Without mentioning them by name, the Holy Father made specific reference to Catholics in China, saying, “with a special spiritual closeness, I think also of the Catholics who, maintain true fidelity to the Chair of Peter without surrendering or compromising in times of trial or great suffering.”
“The whole Church admires this example and prays that they have the strength to persevere, knowing that their tribulations are fonts of victory.”
.- Praying the Angelus December 26th on the Feast of St. Stephen Martyr, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the many Christians who are still suffering persecution in today’s world and commended them to the care of Mary.