Today at the Vatican, Pope Francis celebrated what he called the Catholic Church’s new martyrs on the feast day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. During his Angelus prayer, the Pope acknowledged the ongoing sacrifice of many for the Church, emphasising the fruitful nature of their dedication.
In his Angelus address, the Pope spoke about the heroic witness of Saint Stephen, who showed great courage in bearing witness to Jesus even as he was stoned to death by his persecutors led by Saul.
Saul and Stephen seem to be totally divided, the hardline pharisee versus the heroic Christian believer condemned to death, the Pope observed.
Yet, behind appearances, there is a strong bond between the two, said the Pope, since through Stephen’s witness, the Lord was preparing Saul’s heart for conversion when he would become the great Apostle Paul.
While Stephen offers the ultimate sacrifice as a martyr, his prayers, faith, and especially the forgiveness he offers as he is dying plant a hidden seed in Saul. This will eventually transform his heart of stone into a heart of flesh, the Pope explained.
The Pope then remembered the modern Christians who are persecuted and die for their faith. “Now as then, in fact, the seed of their sacrifices, which seems to die, germinates and bears fruit, because God, through them, continues to work miracles, changing hearts and saving men and women.”
Pray for me, I need it
The Pope also asked for the faithful to pray for him, “as I need it”. Despite facing recent health challenges, the Pope, in a departure from tradition, chose a site outside the Vatican—St. Mary Major—for his tomb.
The 86-year-old pontiff, who has grappled with cataracts, sciatica, and a painful right knee, leading to wheelchair use, has undergone two hernia operations in the past two years. A recent lung inflammation hindered his participation in the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP28) in Dubai.
Despite health concerns, the Pope dispelled rumours of resignation and affirmed his commitment to his role, echoing his predecessor Benedict XVI’s unexpected resignation in February 2013.
While addressing the masses on Christmas Day in his Urbi et Orbi message, Pope Francis condemned the “massacres of innocents in the world,” referring to them as “the little Jesuses of today.” He emphasised the imperative of rejecting war by saying no to weapons.