Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave December 26, on the feast of St. Stephen, before and after praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
Before the Angelus:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Celebrated today is the feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles tells us about him (Cf. Chapters 6-7), and the page of today’s liturgy presents him in the final moments of his life, when he is seized and stoned (Cf. 6:12; 7:54-60).
In the joyful atmosphere of Christmas, this memorial of the first Christian killed for the faith might seem out of place. However, precisely in the perspective of the faith, today’s celebration is in tune with the true meaning of Christmas. In Stephen’s martyrdom, in fact, violence is overcome by love, death, [is overcome] by life: in the hour of supreme witness, he sees the Heavens open and gives his forgiveness to his persecutors (Cf. v. 60).
This young servant of the Gospel, full of the Holy Spirit, was able speak of Jesus with words and especially with his life. Looking at him, we see realized Jesus’ promise to His disciples: “When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are so say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Cf. Matthew 10:19-20).
In the school of Saint Stephen, who became similar to his Teacher, be it in life be it in death, we too can fix our gaze on Jesus, faithful witness of the Father. We learn that Heaven’s glory, which lasts for eternal life, is not made of riches and power, but of love and the gift of self.
We are in need of keeping our gaze fixed on Jesus, “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) to be able to give reason for the hope that has been given to us (Cf. 1 Peter 3:15), through the challenges and trials that we must face daily. For us Christians, Heaven is no longer far away, separated from earth: in Jesus, Heaven descended on earth. And thanks to Him, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, we can assume all that is human and oriented to Heaven. So that our first witness is precisely our way of being human, a style of life molded according to Jesus: meek and courageous, humble and noble, not violent.
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 fraternal gestures and evangelical charity. May his witness, which culminated in martyrdom, be the source of inspiration for the renewal of our Christian communities; they are called to be ever more missionary, all given to evangelization, determined to reach men and women in the existential and geographic peripheries, where there is more thirst of hope and salvation. Communities that don’t follow the worldly logic, that don’t put themselves at the center — their own image –, but only God’s glory and the good of the people, especially of the little ones and the poor.
The feast of this first martyr, Stephen, calls us to remember all the martyrs of yesterday and of today — there are so many today! — to feel in communion with them, and to ask them for the grace to live and die with Jesus’ name in our heart and on our lips. May Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, help us to live this Christmas season fixing our gaze on Jesus, to become every day more like Him.
After the Angelus:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I unite myself to the sorrow that has fallen on the dear population of the Philippines, caused by typhoon Phanfone. I pray for the numerous victims, for the wounded and for their families. I invite all to recite the Hail Mary with me for these people that I love so much.
Hail Mary . . .
I greet you all, pilgrims from Italy and from all countries. May the joy of Christmas that still today fills our hearts, arouse in all the desire to contemplate Jesus in the cave of the manger, to then serve and love Him in our brothers, especially the neediest.
During these days I’ve received so many messages of good wishes from Rome and from other parts of the world. It’s not possible for me to respond to each one but I pray for everyone. Therefore, I express today to you and to all my sincere gratitude, especially for the gift of prayer that so many of you have promised to do. Thank you so much.
Happy feast of Saint Stephen, Please, continue to pray for me. Enjoy your lunch and goodbye!
(Source: ZENIT; translation by Virginia M. Forrester)