praying his weekly Angelus prayer before a crowd of thousands in St.
Peter’s Square on Sunday, Pope Benedict expressed his solidarity with
persecuted Christians around the world, sending his “warm encouragement
to carry on in the patience and charity of Christ,” awaiting the full
realization of the “Kingdom of God to come.”
His words come as Afghanistan’s Abdul Rahman faces a possible death sentence for converting from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago. Rahman’s case has been turned back to the Attorney General because of gaps in the evidence, but due to that country’s Islamic laws, his fate remains uncertain.
The Holy Father began by likening his words with last week’s consistory, in which 15 men were elevated to the position of cardinal.
He called Friday’s event “an intense ecclesial experience that enabled us to taste the spiritual wealth of collegiality, finding ourselves together among brothers from different backgrounds, all united in a single love for Christ and His Church."
"In some way,” he went on, “we relived the situation of the first Christian community, united around Peter and Mary Mother of Jesus to welcome the gift of the Spirit and undertake to spread the Gospel throughout world.”
He gave a sobering explanation of the role of cardinal saying that, “Faithfulness to this mission even unto the sacrifice of their lives is a distinctive characteristic of cardinals, as their oath testifies and as symbolized by the red they wear, the color of blood."
Calling it a "providential coincidence" that the consistory’s March 24th date coincided with "the commemoration of missionaries who, over the past year, have died on the frontiers of evangelization and service to man in various parts of the earth,” the Pope said that the day “provided an opportunity for us to feel closer than ever to those Christians who suffer persecution because of their faith.”
“Their witness, of which news reaches us every day,” he said, “and especially the sacrifice of those killed, edifies and encourages us to an ever more sincere and generous evangelical commitment.”
The Pontiff particularly pointed to “those communities living in countries where religious freedom is lacking or where, despite its affirmation in theory, in practice it suffers many restrictions.”
To those communities, he sent his “warm encouragement to carry on in the patience and charity of Christ, seed of the Kingdom of God to come."
The Holy Father concluded his address by expressing "solidarity in the name of the entire Church" and "daily recollection in my prayers" to those who work in the service of the Gospel under such difficult conditions.
"The Church marches forwards in history”, he said, “and spreads over the earth accompanied by Mary, Queen of the Apostles…We ask her to guide us on our daily journey and to protect with special concern those Christian communities undergoing the greatest difficulty and suffering."