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Thursday, December 28, 2006


VATICAN CITY, DEC 26, 2006 (VIS) - At midday, before praying the Angelus with thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square, the Pope recalled how today is the feast of St. Stephen, deacon and protomartyr.

  At first sight, the fact that the feast of the protomartyr falls the day after Christmas "may leave some people surprised," said the Holy Father, "because of the striking contrast between the peace and joy of Bethlehem and the drama of Stephen, stoned to death in Jerusalem during the first persecution against the nascent Church."

  However, he went on, it must be remembered that "the Baby Jesus lying in the manger ... will save humanity by dying on the cross."

  "In the first four centuries of Christianity, all the saints venerated by the Church were martyrs," said Benedict XVI. "For believers, the day of death - and even more so the day of martyrdom - is not the end of everything but the 'transit' towards eternal life, the day of definitive birth, in Latin 'dies natalis.' ... If Jesus had not been born on earth, mankind would not have been able to be born in heaven. It is precisely because Jesus was born, that we can be 'reborn'."

  The Pope entrusted "those who undergo persecution and suffering in witnessing and serving the Gospel" to the Virgin Mary "who held the Redeemer in her arms in Bethlehem" and after He was removed from the cross.

  "With particular spiritual closeness," he concluded, "I think also of those Catholics who maintain their faithfulness to the See of Peter without giving way to compromise, at times even at the cost of great suffering. All the Church admires their example and prays that they may find the strength to persevere, in the knowledge that their tribulations are a source of victory, even when they may appear as failures."
ANG/ST. STEPHEN:MARTYRS/...                        VIS 20061228 (320)

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