TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS…. – “JESUS IS THE SALVATION FOR EVERY PERSON” – FEAST OF ST. STEPHEN, FIRST MARTYR OF THE CHURCH

TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS….

Pope Francis tweeted the following today, December 26, feast of St. Stephen, protomartyr: Let us pray today for all those who are persecuted for their Christian faith.

Today is a big holiday here in Italy and also part of the holiday period given to Vatican employees. It has been a beautiful day here in Rome, with blue skies and brilliant sun shining down on the tens of thousands of pilgrims who have come to Rome for Christmas, most of whom, at some point of another, also visited the Vatican, either to attend the Christmas vigil Mass on the 24th or be in St. Peter’s Square Christmas Day for the twice-annual Urbi et Orbi message and blessing from the Pope and again today for the Angelus.

With so many people out of the city for the holidays, either visiting relatives and friends or spending time at a second home in the mountains or near the sea, Rome has been fairly quiet as far as traffic goes. Busses ran until 9 pm on Decembet 24 and only a few hours in the morning on Christmas Day and again for a few hours in late afternoon. The quiet and peace has been a real gift!

I attended the vigil Mass on December 24 with the Santa Susanna community – one of the very rare times in my life I have not gone on Christmas Day. It was a family tradition to attend Mass on Christmas morning and that is pretty much what I have done every year.

The first vigil Mass – truly a Midnight Mass – that I ever recall attending was in Zermatt, Switzerland, a two-hour drive south of Fribourg where I spent my junior year in college. We spent a week here on Christmas vacation – most of us learning how to ski! – and then a week in Vienna. As no cars were allowed in Zermatt, the only transportation was walking, skiing or by sled – and that is how we went to Mass! In a sled! Singing wonderful Christmas carols! A magical, unique, unforgettable moment.

The second Midnight Mass I attended was December 24-25, 1993 when I was a reader for the Eucharist presided over by John Paul II! I had wanted to be home for Christmas to mark the first anniversary of my Dad’s death but was unable to for work reasons. My Mom was devastated – she so wanted me home but we were together in a way neither of us could have expected. When I was asked to read (twice, as I also read an introductory piece in English about the meaning of Christmas) at the papal Christmas Mass, I called Mom immediately and told her we would be together, though separated by miles, thanks to television!

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Christmas was beautiful this year in so many ways – the remarkably special liturgy with the Santa Susanna community and then the wonderful dinner party last night with friends, including the mother of a priest friend who works at the Vatican. Marge is here for the Christmas holidays and it was a joy to have her for a turkey dinner. I spent most of the day in the kitchen, as demanded by a turkey dinner but it was all worth it when all the guests went back for seconds (a second serving seems to be a mandatory party of a turkey meal).

It had been fun to decorate my home and then share it with friends, as I hope to do in coming days – maybe even weeks. Many friends who work at the Vatican have taken 10 or 12 days off (some even longer) so we will celebrate the New Year as well when they get back.

I have a number of beautiful nativity scenes – 3 from Bethlehem (two were gifts when I spent Christmas there – this should be the 11th commandment – Christians must spend one Christmas in Bethlehem!), a Mexican one and a magnificent Lladro nativity scene. I set up one Bethlehem nativity scene and the Lladro nativity as well. Here are a few photos of those nativity scenes and a few of my house (for my family):

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The centerpiece on my table was given to me by Claudio and Palmerina, owners of La Vittoria restaurant, near my home. Here is a photo of the nativity scene they have every year in the restaurant (can you imagine a restaurant in the US. doing this?! Some person or group would protest – so much for freedom of expression!)

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Following is Pope Francis Christmas Day message and blessing and his words at the Angelus today, feast of St. Stephen.

“JESUS IS THE SALVATION FOR EVERY PERSON”

Urbi et Orbi Message of Pope Francis Thursday 25 December 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy Christmas!

Jesus, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, is born for us, born in Bethlehem of a Virgin, fulfilling the ancient prophecies.  The Virgin’s name is Mary, the wife of Joseph.

Humble people, full of hope in the goodness of God, are those who welcome Jesus and recognize him.  And so the Holy Spirit enlightened the shepherds of Bethlehem, who hastened to the grotto and adored the Child.  Then the Spirit led the elderly and humble couple Simeon and Anna into the temple of Jerusalem, and they recognized in Jesus the Messiah.  “My eyes have seen your salvation”, Simeon exclaimed, “the salvation prepared by God in the sight of all peoples” (Lk 2:30).

Yes, brothers and sisters, Jesus is the salvation for every person and for every people!

Today I ask him, the Saviour of the world, to look upon our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria, who for too long now have suffered the effects of ongoing conflict, and who, together with those belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, are suffering a brutal persecution.  May Christmas bring them hope, as indeed also to the many displaced persons, exiles and refugees, children, adults and elderly, from this region and from the whole world.  May indifference be changed into closeness and rejection into hospitality, so that all who now are suffering may receive the necessary humanitarian help to overcome the rigours of winter, return to their countries and live with dignity.  May the Lord open hearts to trust, and may he bestow his peace upon the whole Middle East, beginning with the land blessed by his birth, thereby sustaining the efforts of those committed effectively to dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

May Jesus, Saviour of the world, protect all who suffer in Ukraine, and grant that their beloved land may overcome tensions, conquer hatred and violence, and set out on a new journey of fraternity and reconciliation.

May Christ the Saviour give peace to Nigeria, where [even in these hours] more blood is being shed and too many people are unjustly deprived of their possessions, held as hostages or killed.  I invoke peace also on the other parts of the African continent, thinking especially of Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and various regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I beseech all who have political responsibility to commit themselves through dialogue to overcoming differences and to building a lasting, fraternal coexistence.

May Jesus save the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers; children, so many abused children.  May he give comfort to the families of the children killed in Pakistan last week.  May he be close to all who suffer from illness, especially the victims of the Ebola epidemic, above all in Liberia, in Sierra Leone and in Guinea.  As I thank all who are courageously dedicated to assisting the sick and their family members, I once more make an urgent appeal that the necessary assistance and treatment be provided.

The Child Jesus.  My thoughts turn to all those children today who are killed and ill-treated, be they infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life; be they children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence. I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born.  Even today, their impotent silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods. On their blood stands the shadow of contemporary Herods.  Truly there are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the Infant Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit today enlighten our hearts, that we may recognize in the Infant Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, the salvation given by God to each one of us, to each man and woman and to all the peoples of the earth.  May the power of Christ, which brings freedom and service, be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery.  May this divine power, by its meekness, take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference, the globalization of indifference.  May his redeeming strength transform arms into ploughshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness.  Then we will be able to cry out with joy: “Our eyes have seen your salvation”.

With these thoughts I wish you all a Happy Christmas!

FEAST OF ST. STEPHEN, FIRST MARTYR OF THE CHURCH

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today the liturgy recalls the witness of Saint Stephen. Chosen by the Apostles, together with six others, for the diaconate of charity in the community of Jerusalem, he became the first martyr of the Church. With his martyrdom, Stephen honored the coming into the world of the King of kings, offering to Him the gift of his own life. And so he shows us how to live the fullness of the mystery of Christmas.

The Gospel of this feast gives a part of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples in the moment in which He sends them on mission. Among other things, He says, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22). These words of the Lord do not disrupt the celebration of Christmas, but strip it of that false saccharine-sweetness that does not belong to it. It makes us understand that in the trials accepted on account of the faith, violence is overcome by love, death by life.

To truly welcome Jesus in our existence, and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is precisely the one indicated in this Gospel: that is, to bear witness in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current, able to pay in person. And if not all are called, as Saint Stephen was, to shed their own blood, nonetheless, every Christian is called in every circumstance to be to live a life that is coherent with the faith he or she professes.

Following the Gospel is certainly a demanding path, but those who travel it with fidelity and courage receive the gift promised by the Lord to men and women of good will.

At Bethlehem, in fact, the angels announced to the shepherds, “on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Lk 2:14). This peace given by God is able to soothe the conscience of those who, through the trials of life, know to welcome the Word of God and observe it with perseverance to the end (cf. Mt 10:22).

Today let us pray in a special way for all those who are discriminated against because of their witness to Christ. I want to say to each of them: If you carry this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas, you are in the heart of Jesus and of the Church. Let us pray also that, thanks to the sacrifices of the martyrs of today, the commitment to recognize and concretely to ensure religious liberty — an inalienable right of every human person — would be strengthened in every part of the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, I hope all of you will enjoy a peaceful Christmas feast. May Saint Stephen, Deacon and Proto-martyr, sustain on our daily path all of us, who hope to be crowned, in the end, in the festive assembly of the Saints in paradise.

AFTER THE ANGELUS

Dear brothers and sisters, I greet you in the joy of Christmas and I renew my best wishes for peace for all of you: peace in families, in parishes and religious communities, in movements, and in associations. I greet everyone named Stephen or Stephanie: Best wishes!

In these past few weeks I have received so many Christmas greetings from Rome, and elsewhere. Because it is not possible for me to respond to each one, I want to express today my heartfelt thanks for all of them, especially for the gift of prayer. Thank you from the heart! May the Lord repay your generosity.

And don’t forget: Christian coherence — that is, thinking, feeling, and living as a Christian. And not to think as a Christian and live like a pagan. Not that! Today let us ask Stephen for the gift of Christian coherence… And please, continue to pray for me. Don’t forget!

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