Martyrs

Martyrs - Pope Francis         


Pope Francis   26.12.13  Angelus, St Peter's Square   Feast of St Stephen  Year A    Acts 6: 8-10,        Acts 7: 54-59,         Matthew 10: 17-22

Pope Francis Angelus St Stephen 26.12.13

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning.

You aren’t afraid of the rain, you are very good!

The liturgy extends the Solemnity of Christmas for eight days: a time of joy for the entire People of God! And on this second day of the octave, the Feast of
St Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, is inserted into the joy of Christmas. The book of the Acts of the Apostles presents him to us as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (6:5), chosen with six others for the service of widows and the poor in the first Community of Jerusalem. And it tells us about his martyrdom, when after a fiery dispute that aroused the anger of the members of the Sanhedrin, he was dragged outside the city walls and stoned. Stephen dies like Jesus, asking pardon for those who killed him (7:55-60).

In the joyful atmosphere of Christmas, this commemoration may seem out of place. For Christmas is the celebration of life and it fills us with sentiments of serenity and peace. Why disturb the charm with the memory of such atrocious violence? In reality, from the perspective of faith, the Feast of St Stephen is in full harmony with the deeper meaning of Christmas. In martyrdom, in fact, violence is conquered by love, death by life. The Church sees in the sacrifice of the martyrs their “birth into heaven”. Therefore, today we celebrate the “birth” of Stephen, which in its depths springs from the Birth of Christ. Jesus transforms the death of those who love him into a dawn of new life!

In the martyrdom of Stephen the same confrontation between good and evil, between hatred and forgiveness, between meekness and violence, which culminated in the Cross of Christ. Thus, the remembrance of the first martyr immediately dispels a false image of Christmas: the fairy-tale, sugar-coated image, which is not in the Gospel! The liturgy brings us back to the authentic meaning of the Incarnation, by linking Bethlehem to Calvary and by reminding us that the divine salvation involved the battle against sin, it passes through the narrow door of the Cross.
This is the path which Jesus clearly indicated to his disciples, as today’s Gospel attests: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22).

Therefore today we pray especially for the Christians who are discriminated against on account of the witness they bear to Christ and to the Gospel. Let us remain close to these brothers and sisters who, like St Stephen, are unjustly accused and made the objects of various kinds of violence. Unfortunately, I am sure they are more numerous today than in the early days of the Church. There are so many! This occurs especially where religious freedom is still not guaranteed or fully realized. However, it also happens in countries and areas where on paper freedom and human rights are protected, but where in fact believers, and especially Christians, face restrictions and discrimination. I would like to ask you to take a moment in silence to pray for these brothers and sisters [...] and let us entrust them to Our Lady (Hail Mary...). This comes as no surprise to a Christian, for Jesus foretold it as a propitious occasion to bear witness. Still, on a civil level, injustice must be denounced and eliminated.

May Mary Queen of Martyrs help us to live Christmas with the ardour of faith and love which shone forth in St Stephen and in all of the martyrs of the Church.





Pope Francis   26.12.16  Angelus, St Peter's Square   Feast of St Stephen  Year A    Acts 6: 8-10,        Acts 7: 54-59,         Matthew 10: 17-22

Pope Francis  Angelus about St Stephen 26.12.16

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

The joy of Christmas fills our hearts today too, as the liturgy involves us in celebrating the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the First Martyr, inviting us to reflect on the witness that he gave us with his sacrifice. It is precisely the glorious witness of Christian martyrdom, suffered for love of Christ; the martyrdom which continues to be present in the history of the Church, from Stephen up to our time.

Today’s Gospel (cf. Mt 10:17-22) told us of this witness. Jesus forewarns the disciples of the rejection and persecution they will encounter: “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (v. 22). But why does the world persecute Christians? The world hates Christians for the same reason that they hated Jesus: because he brought the light of God, and the world prefers darkness so as to hide its evil works. Let us recall that Jesus himself, at the Last Supper, prayed that the Father might protect us from the wicked worldly spirit. There is opposition between the Gospel and this worldly mentality. Following Jesus means following his light, which was kindled in the night of Bethlehem, and abandoning worldly obscurity.

The Protomartyr Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, was stoned because he professed his faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Only Begotten Son who comes into the world invites every believer to choose the way of light and life. This is the meaning of his coming among us. Loving the Lord and obeying his voice, the Deacon Stephen chose Christ, Life and Light for all mankind. By choosing truth, he became at the same time a victim of the inexplicable iniquity present in the world. But in Christ, Stephen triumphed!

Today too, in order to bear witness to light and to truth, the Church experiences, in different places, harsh persecution, up to the supreme sacrifice of martyrdom. How many of our brothers and sisters in faith endure abuse and violence, and are hated because of Jesus! I shall tell you something: today’s martyrs are more numerous with respect to those of the first centuries. When we read the history of the first centuries, here in Rome, we read of so much cruelty toward Christians; I tell you: there is the same cruelty today, and to a greater extent, toward Christians. Today we should think of those who are suffering from persecution, and to be close to them with our affection, our prayers and also our tears. Yesterday, Christmas Day, Christians persecuted in Iraq celebrated Christmas in their destroyed cathedral: it is an example of faithfulness to the Gospel. In spite of the trials and dangers, they courageously witness their belonging to Christ and live the Gospel by committing themselves in favour of the least, of the most neglected, doing good to all without distinction; in this way they witness to charity in truth.

In making room in our heart for the Son of God who gives himself to us at Christmas, let us joyfully and courageously renew the will to follow him faithfully, as the only guide, by continuing to live according to the Gospel attitude and rejecting the mentality of those who dominate this world.

Let us raise our prayers to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Martyrs, that she may guide us and always sustain us on our journey in following Jesus Christ, whom we contemplate in the grotto of the Nativity and who is the faithful Witness of God the Father.






Pope Francis      01.06.18  Holy Mass Santa Marta          1 Peter 4: 7-13 
https://sites.google.com/site/francishomilies/persecution/01.06.18.jpg

Persecution is rather like the ‘air’ that Christians breathe even today. Because even today there are many martyrs, many people who are persecuted for their love of Christ. There are many countries where Christians have no rights. If you wear a cross, you go to jail. And there are people in jail. There are people condemned to death today simply because they are Christians. The number of people killed is higher than the number of early martyrs. It’s higher! But this doesn’t make news. Television newscasts and newspapers don’t cover these things. Meanwhile Christians are being persecuted.

The Devil is behind every persecution, both of Christians and all human beings. The Devil tries to destroy the presence of Christ in Christians, and the image of God in men and women. He tried doing this from the very beginning, as we read in the Book of Genesis: he tried to destroy that harmony that the Lord created between man and woman, the harmony that comes from being made in the image and likeness of God. And he succeeded. He managed to do it by using deception, seduction…the weapons he uses. He always does this. But there is a powerful ruthlessness against men and women today: otherwise how to explain this growing wave of destruction towards men and women, and all that is human”.

H
unger is an injustice that destroys men and women because they have nothing to eat, even if there is a lot food available in the world. Human exploitation; different forms of slavery; recently I saw a film shot inside a prison where migrants are locked up and tortured to turn them into slaves. This is still happening 70 years after the Declaration of Human Rights. Cultural colonization. This is exactly what the Devil wants, to destroy human dignity – and that is why the Devil is behind all forms of persecution.

Wars can be considered a kind of instrument to destroy people, made in the image of God. But so are the people who make war, who plan war in order to exercise power over others. There are people who promote the arms industry to destroy humanity, to destroy the image of man and woman, physically morally, and culturally… Even if they are not Christians, the Devil persecutes them because they are the image of God. We must not be ingenuous. In the world today, all humans, and not only Christians are being persecuted, because the Father of all persecutions cannot bare that they are the image and likeness of God. So he attacks and destroys that image. It isn’t easy to understand this. We have to pray a lot if we want to understand it. …




Pope Francis    08.02.19      Holy Mass, Santa Marta         Mark 6: 14-29
Pope Francis 08.02.19 at Holy Mass Santa Marta

John knew he had to diminish and annihilate himself to the point of death because Jesus must grow. The forerunner of Christ denied he was the Messiah but showed Jesus to His disciples and gradually faded away until he was extinguished and beheaded in the dark and lonely cell of the prison.

Martyrdom is a service and mystery which entails the very great gift of life. He met a violent end because of human attitudes that lead to taking away the life of a Christian, of an honest person and make him a martyr.
At first, Herod believed John was a prophet, listened to him willingly and protected him to a certain extent but held him in prison. He was undecided because John reproached him for the sin of adultery.

The king heard God’s voice asking him to change his life but he could not because he was
corrupt, and it is very difficult to get out of corruption. Herod could not come out of the tangle as he tried to make diplomatic balances between his adulterous life and many injustices and the awareness of the holiness of the prophet whom he decapitated.
The Gospel says that Herodias
hated John because he spoke clearly. Hatred is “Satan’s breath”, it is very powerful, capable of doing everything excepting loving. The devil’s 'love' is hatred and Herodias had the satanic spirit of hatred that destroys.

The daughter of Herodias was a good dancer and a delight to the diners and Herod who promised the girl everything she asked, just like Satan tempted Jesus in the desert.

Behind these characters there was Satan, who sowed hatred in the woman,
vanity in the girl and corruption in the king.

The precursor of Christ, the greatest man born of a woman, as Jesus described him, ended up alone, in a dark prison cell, the victim of the whim of a vain dancer, the hatred of a diabolical woman and the corruption of a vacillating king. John is a martyr who allowed himself to diminish in order to give way to the Messiah.

John died in the cell, in anonymity, like so many of our martyrs. This is a great witness, of a great man, of a great saint.

Life has value only in giving it, in giving it in love, in truth, in giving it to others, in daily life, in the family.

If someone preserves life for himself, guards it like the king in h
is corruption or the woman with her hatred, or the daughter with her vanity, a little like an adolescent, unknowingly, life dies and withers, becoming useless.

Let us all to think about the 4 characters in the Gospel and  open our hearts so that the Lord may speak to us about this.




Pope Francis     25.09.19  General Audience, St Peter's Square      Catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles      Acts 6: 1-15 to  Acts 7: 1- 60   

Pope Francis  25.09.19

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Through the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, we continue to follow a journey: the journey of the Gospel in the world. St. Luke, with great realism, shows both the fruitfulness of this journey and the onset of some problems within the Christian community. From the beginning there were always problems. How can we harmonize the differences that coexist within the Christian community without conflict and rifts happening?

The community welcomed not only the Jews, but also the Greeks, that is, people from the diaspora, non-Jews, with their own culture and sensibilities and with another religion. Today, we say "pagans. And these were welcomed. This coexistence leads to fragile and precarious balances; and in the face of difficulties comes the "weed", and what is the worst weed that destroys a community? The weed of the murmur, the weeds of the chatter: the Greeks murmur for the inattention of the community towards their widows.

The Apostles initiate a process of discernment that consists of carefully considering difficulties and seeking solutions together. They find a way out by dividing the various tasks for the serene growth of the entire church body to maintain the harmony between the service of the Word and the care of the poorest members.

The Apostles are increasingly aware that their main vocation is prayer and preaching the Word of God: praying and announcing the Gospel; and resolve the issue by establishing a core of "seven men of good reputation, full of Spirit and wisdom"(Acts 6:3), who, after receiving the imposition of hands, carried out works of charity. These are the deacons that are created for this service. The deacon in the Church is not a second priest , he is something else; he is not for the altar, but for service. He is the guardian of service in the Church. When a deacon likes to go to the altar too much, he's wrong. This is not his way. This harmony between service to the Word and service to charity represents the yeast that makes the church body grow.

In fact St Luke immediately afterwards notes that the word of God was spreading the number of disciples in Jerusalem were greatly multiplying.

And the Apostles create seven deacons, and among the seven "deacons" Stephen and Philip are particularly distinguished . Stephen evangelized with strength and energy, but his word met the most stubborn resistance. Finding no other way to make stop him , what do his opponents do? They choose the worst solution to annihilate a human being: that is, slander and perjury. And we know that slander always kills. This "diabolical cancer", which arises from the desire to destroy a person's reputation, also attacks the rest of the Church's body and severely damages it when, for petty interests or to cover up their own inadequacies, they join together as a group to smear the name of someone.

Led into the Sanhedrin and accused by false witnesses – they had done the same with Jesus and they will do the same with all
martyrs through false witnesses and slander – Stephen proclaimed a re-reading of the sacred history that was centred in Christ, to defend himself. And there is a link that crosses all the history of the Jewish people from Abraham to Jesus. And it's a progression in faith that in Christ reached it's full maturation. The Easter of Jesus who died and rose is the key to the whole history of the covenant. In the face of this overabundance of the divine gift, Stephen courageously denounces the hypocrisy with which the prophets and Christ himself were treated. And remind them of history by saying, "Who of the prophets of your fathers you not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become"(Acts 7:52). He doesn't mince his words, but spoke clearly, he told the truth.

This provoked the violent reaction of those listening to him, and Stephen was condemned to death, condemned to stoning. However he showed his true being as a disciple of Christ. He didn't seek ways to escape, he didn't appeal to the people who could of saved him, but instead he put his life back in the Lord's hands, and Stephen's prayer is beautiful, at that moment: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59) – and he died as a son of God, forgiving: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them "(Acts 7:60).

These words of Stephen teach us that it is not the beautiful speeches that reveal our identity as children of God, but only the abandonment of one's life into the hands of the Father and forgiveness for those who offend us show us the quality of our faith. Stephen was the first martyr. The other Christ. That is the man whom the Holy Spirit made similar to Jesus. Free from fear, free from the fear of losing himself, but capable of witnessing the love of God right to the end.

Today there are more martyrs than at the beginning of the life of the Church, and martyrs are everywhere. The Church today is rich in martyrs, and is irrigated by their blood which is "the seed of new Christians" (Tertullian, Apologetic,50,13) and ensures the growth and fruitfulness of the People of God. Martyrs are not just holy, but men and women of flesh and blood who, as the Apocalypse says, "have washed their clothing, making them white in the blood of the Lamb" (7:14). They are the real winners.

Let us also ask the Lord that, looking at the martyrs of the past and present, we can learn to live a full life, welcoming the martyrdom of daily fidelity to the Gospel and conformity to Christ.



Pope Francis  26.12.19  Angelus, St Peter's Square     Feast of St Stephen  Year A      Acts 6: 8-10,         Acts 7: 54-59,       Matthew 10: 17-22
  
Pope Francis Feast of St Stephen 26.12.19

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

The feast of
St. Stephen, the first martyr, is celebrated today. The Book of Acts of the Apostles tells us about him (see Chapter 6-7) and on the page of today's liturgy presents him in the final moments of his life, when he is captured and stoned (cf. 6:12; 7:54-60). In the joyful atmosphere of Christmas, this memory of the first Christian killed for faith may seem out of place. However, precisely from the perspective of faith, today's celebration stands in harmony with the true meaning of Christmas. In Stephen's martyrdom, in fact, violence is defeated by love, death by life: he, in the hour of supreme witness, contemplates the heavens open and offers pardon to his persecutors (cf. v. 60).

This young servant of the Gospel, full of the Holy Spirit, was able to speak about Jesus with words, and especially with his life. Looking at him, we see Jesus' promise to his disciples come true: "When they mistreat you because of me, the Spirit of the Father will give you the strength and the words to bear witness" (cf. Mt 10:19-20). At the school of St. Stephen, who became like his Master in both life and death, we also fix our gaze on Jesus, the Father's faithful witness. We learn that the glory of Heaven, the glory that lasts for eternal life, is not made up of riches and power, but of love and self-giving.

We need to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, the "author and perfecter of our faith"(Heb 12:2), in order to give the reasons for the hope that has been given to us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), through the challenges and trials we face on a daily basis. For us Christians, Heaven is no longer far away, separated from earth: in Jesus, Heaven has descended to earth. And thanks to Him, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, we can take on all that is human and direct it towards Heaven. So it is precisely our way of being human that is our first manner of bearing witness, a lifestyle shaped after Jesus: meek and courageous, humble and noble, non-violent and strong.

Stephen was a deacon, one of the first seven deacons of the Church (cf. Acts 6:1-6). He teaches us to proclaim Christ through acts of fraternity and evangelical charity. His witness, culminating in martyrdom, is a source of inspiration for the renewal of our Christian communities. They are called to become more and more missionary, all of them aimed at evangelization, determined to reach men and women in the existential and geographical peripheries, where there is more thirst for hope and salvation. Communities that do not follow worldly logic, which do not focus on their own image, but only the glory of God and the good of others, especially the weakest and the poor.

The feast of this first martyr Stephen calls us to remember all the martyrs of yesterday and today, - today there are many! - to feel united in communion with them, and to ask them for the grace to live and die with the name of Jesus in our hearts and lips. May Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, help us to live this Christmas season with our gaze fixed on Jesus, to become more like Him every day.




Pope Francis   28.04.20 Holy Mass Casa Santa Marta (Domus Sanctae Marthae)    Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter   Acts 7: 51 - 8: 1

Pope Francis Santa Marta 28.04.20

In this time when we begin to have provisions to exit quarantine, let us pray to the Lord to give his people, to all of us, the grace of prudence and obedience to the provisions, so that the pandemic does not return.

In the first Reading of these days we listened to Stephen's martyrdom: it's a simple thing, that happened. The doctors of the Law did not tolerate the clarity of the doctrine, and as it came out they went to ask someone to say that they had heard that Stephen blaspheme against God, against the Law. And after that, they attacked him and stoned him: simple as that. It is a structure of action that is not the first: they did the same with Jesus . They tried to convince the people who were there that he was a blasphemer and they shouted: "Crucify him." This is acting like beasts. Acting like beasts, starting with false testimonies to arrive at injustice. That's the pattern. Even in the Bible there are cases like this: they did the same to Susanna , they did the same to Naboth, then Aman tried to do the same with the people of God. False news, slander that ignites the people who then demand justice. It's a lynching, a real lynching.

And so, they bring it to the judge, for the judge to give legal formality to this: but he has already been judged, the judge must be very, very brave to go against such a popular judgment, done on purpose, prepared. This is the case of Pilate: Pilate clearly saw that Jesus was innocent, but he saw the people, he washed his hands of it. It's a way of doing law. Even today we see it: it takes place even today, in some countries, when they want to make a coup or take out some politician so that he does not go to the elections or whatever, this is done: false news, slander, then they rely on a judge that is to their liking to create law in these types of situations that lead to a condemnation. It's a social lynching. And this is what was done with Stephen, that's how Stephen's judgment was made: brought to be judged, someone who had already been judged by the deceived people.

This also happens with today's martyrs: that judges have no chance of doing justice because they come already judged. Let us think of Asia Bibi, for example, that we have seen: ten years in prison because she had been judged by slander and a people who wanted her death. In the face of this avalanche of false news that creates opinion, so often nothing can be done: nothing can be done.

I think a lot about this, the Holocaust. The Holocaust is such an example: an opinion was created against a people and then it was normal: "Yes, yes: they must be killed, they must be killed". This is a way to proceed to get rid of people who are bothering you, disturbing you.

We all know that this is not good, but what we do not know is that there is a small daily lynching that tries to condemn people, to create a bad reputation for people, to discard them, to condemn them: the little daily lynching of gossip that creates an opinion. And so often we hear someone say: "But no, this person is a good person!" – "No , no: it is said that ...", and with that "it is said that" you create an opinion to take down a person.
 
Truth is something else: truth is the testimony of the truth, of the things that a person believes; the truth is clear, it is transparent. Truth does not tolerate oppression. Let us look at Stephen, a martyr: the first martyr after Jesus. The first martyr. Let us think of the apostles: they have all given witness. And let us think of so many martyrs who – even the one of today, St. Peter Chanel – it was the chatter that created the opinion that he was against the king ... a reputation is created, and he must be killed.
 
And let us think about ourselves, of our language: so often we, with our comments, begin such a lynching. And in our Christian institutions, we have seen so many daily lynchings that were born from gossip.

May the Lord help us to be just in our judgments, not to begin or follow this mass condemnation that is provoked by gossip.