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Monday, December 29, 2008


VATICAN CITY, 26 DEC 2008 (VIS) - At noon today, on the Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr, the Holy Father appeared at the widow of his study to pray the Angelus with thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square.

In the account of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the Pope said, there is a detail that "during this Pauline Year should be highlighted: the note that 'the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul'".

The Holy Father observed, "St. Paul appears here for the first time, with his Hebrew name of Saul, in the role of a zealous persecutor of the Church. ... Shortly after the martyrdom of St. Stephen and still driven by his zeal against Christians, Saul was struck down by a light from heaven, the extraordinary experience in which the risen Christ appeared to him, spoke to him, and changed his life".

"Saul persecuted the Church and had even participated in the stoning of Stephen. He saw him stoned to death but above all had seen the way in which he died, ever like Christ, that is, praying and forgiving his killers. On the road to Damascus Saul understood that in persecuting the Church he was persecuting Jesus who had died and truly risen; Jesus, alive in His Church, was also alive in Stephen who he had seen die but who now certainly lived together with his risen Lord. We can almost say that in Christ's voice he heard that of Stephen and, as well as by his intercession, divine grace touched his heart".

"In St. Stephen", Benedict XVI concluded, "we see come to fruition the first fruits of the salvation that the Nativity of Christ offered to humanity: the victory of life over death, of love over hate, of the light of truth over the darkness of deception. We give thanks to God that this victory still today allows many Christians not to return evil with evil, but to respond with the strength of truth and love".

After praying the Angelus the Pope gave the following words: "At Christmastime our concern for those who find themselves in conditions of suffering or great difficulty is heightened. I think, among others, of the two consecrated Italian women, Maria Teresa Olivero and Caterina Giraudo, belonging to the Father de Foucauld Contemplative Missionary Movement, who have been held hostage for over a month and a half, together with a group of local members, in the village of El Waq in Northern Kenya. I want them to feel the solidarity of the Pope and all the Church in these moments. May the Lord who, being born, came to give us His love reach the heart of the kidnappers, that they free our sisters so that they might return to their selfless service with our poorest brothers and sisters! I invite you to pray for this without forgetting the many persons held hostage in other places around the world, of whom we do not always have clear news: I am thinking of those held hostage for political as well as other reasons in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa".
ANG/STEPHEN HOSTAGES/... VIS 20081229 (520)

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