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On the Feast of St. Stephen the Protomartyr, Pope Francis asks for prayers for all persecuted Christians.
An Iraqi woman prays during a 2011 Christmas Mass at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad. (CNS photo/Saad Shalash, Reuters)

From the Associated Press:

Militants in Iraq targeted Christians in three separate Christmas Day bombings in Baghdad, killing at least 37 people, officials said Wednesday.

In one attack, a car bomb went off near a church in the capital’s southern Dora neighborhood, killing at least 26 people and wounding 38, a police officer said.

Earlier, two bombs ripped through a nearby outdoor market simultaneously in the Christian section of Athorien, killing 11 people and wounding 21, the officer said.

The Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Louis Sako, said the parked car bomb exploded after Christmas Mass and that none of the worshippers were hurt. Sako said he didn’t believe the church was the target.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but Iraq’s dwindling Christian community, which is estimated to number about 400,000 to 600,000 people, often has been targeted by al-Qaida and other insurgents who see the Christians as heretics.

Today during his Angelus address on the Feast of St. Stephen, Pope Francis spoke about how the witness of the first martyr should remind us of those suffering for the faith in the world today:

“In the joyful atmosphere of Christmas…this commemoration [of St. Stephen] might seem out of place. Christmas in fact is the celebration of life and gives us feelings of serenity and peace. Why upset its charm with the memory of such brutal 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 overcome by love, death by life. The Church sees in the sacrifice of the martyrs their ‘birth in heaven.’ Let us therefore celebrate today Stephen's ‘birth’, which deeply stems from the birth of Christ. Jesus transforms the death of those who love him into the dawn of new life! The same clash between good and evil, between hatred and forgiveness, between gentleness and violence, which culminated in the Cross of Christ, is played out in Stephen’s martyrdom. Thus, the memory of the first martyr comes immediately to dissolve the false image of Christmas as a mushy fairy tale that does not exist in the Gospel! The liturgy brings us back to the true meaning of the Incarnation, connecting Bethlehem to Calvary, and reminding us that divine salvation involves a struggle against sin through the narrow gate of the Cross.”

For the pope, Saint Stephen’s martyrdom is the reason why “we are praying today especially for Christians who suffer discrimination because of their witness to Christ and the Gospel.”

“We are close to those brothers and sisters who, like Saint Stephen, are unjustly accused and subjected to violence of various kinds. This happens especially where religious freedom is still not guaranteed or not fully realised. In my opinion, there are more today than in the early days of the Church. As it happens however, even in countries and places that protect freedom and human rights on the paper, believers, especially Christians, encounter limitations or discrimination.”

 

 
About the Author
Catherine Harmon catherine.harmon@catholicworldreport.com

Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.
 
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