LORD, HEAR OUR PRAYER….

LORD, HEAR OUR PRAYER….

Following is the English text of Pope Francis’ heartfelt reflections at the Urbi et Orbi prayer and blessing last night from both a dark, rain-drenched St. Peter’s square and the well-lit atrium of the basilica. Inside we were able to stay for some time in prayerful, powerful adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus truly among us, Jesus truly with us!

Each paragraph, indeed each sentence could be for each of us a powerful moment of prayer and reflection every remaining day of Lent. Let’s re-read this, a line at a time, and talk to God as we do so, begging His intercession, His forgiveness, His grace to “grow in wisdom, age and grace.”

I took the photos (obviously) from the television –

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“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”. “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

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“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we flounder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).

POPE’S UNIVERSAL PRAYER, URBI ET ORBI, STREAMED ALSO IN SIGN LANGUAGE

POPE’S UNIVERSAL PRAYER, URBI ET ORBI, STREAMED ALSO IN SIGN LANGUAGE

A streaming channel in sign language for the hearing impaired is activated by Vatican News on the occasion of Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Universal Prayer for the end of the Covid-19 pandemic.
By Vatican News

Pope Francis has called for global participation “to respond to the coronavirus pandemic with the universality of prayer.”

The ceremony takes place today, Friday, March 27 at 6pm Rome time and will be broadcast live to the world by Vatican Media.

In an effort to make that participation as universal as possible, Vatican News has created new online streaming channel in sign language for people with hearing challenges.

For approximately one hour all believers are invited to join Pope Francis for the extraordinary ceremony which consists in readings from the Scriptures, prayers of supplication, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; and will conclude with Pope Francis giving the Urbi et orbi Blessing, with the possibility of gaining a plenary indulgence for all those who follow live through the various forms of communication. This plenary indulgence will also be extended to those who may not be able to participate in the prayer through the media due to illness but who unite themselves in spiritual communion with the prayer.

You can join through all the Vatican Radio communications platforms including a dedicated channel on YouTube with translation into Sign Language: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCONID8PEOo.

This service will be curated by Sr. Veronica Donatello, coordinator of Italian Bishops’ Conference Catechesis Section for people with disabilities. It will be broadcast in collaboration with the Bishops’ TV2000 network.

POPE ANNOUNCES EXTRAORDINARY URBI ET ORBI BLESSING – COMMUNIQUE FROM PAPAL ALMSGIVER

I took a little bit of a hiatus from news yesterday, that is, I researched a lot, reposted some stories on Facebook but did not write a blog about the latest developments in Italy regarding quarantine, what we can do and cannot do, what some of the news measures are, etc. Tune in tomorrow!

I greatly enjoyed some Face Time with a niece last evening, and her two sisters and their children will join me later today. That is such a terrific way to stay in touch!

I don’t know where the time goes every day but I do know I am very behind in correspondence with so many of you who have sent me messages, emails, comments on Facebook, etc. I’ll try to be in touch personally in coming days.

Great news from my Rome parish of St. Patrick’s! Paulist Fathers Greg Apparcel and Steve Petroff have been posting videos of daily Mass in the small rectory chapel and that has been heart-warming but today’s Mass was quite special. Three of us who are lectors prepared the two readings and the Prayers of the Faithful in our homes, recording these segments on our iPads and then putting them on Google Drive. Ditto for our cantor and his wife who recorded music in their home. All segments were sent to Paulists in the U.S. who had the equipment needed to put the whole thing together, including putting sheet music online so we could sing as if in church. I was SO grateful for the sense of community!

Here are some links from Fr. Greg:
Mass for Sunday, March 22, 2020: +https://www.facebook.com/cacrome/videos/215511813030397/
YouTube: https://youtu.be/vB_Y27nL12A
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/399556467

Also look for our Stations of the Cross service that is now posted on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cacrome/videos/2508066879456605/
YouTube: https://youtu.be/dZvp2qHMsYA
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/399552697
For Sunday Mass, we thank our musicians, Dafrosa Cho and Raimundo Pereira; our Lectors: Joan Lewis, Gabriella Spadaro and Ann Haring; and our Paulist brothers in Washington DC and New York who edited all this together and upload the Mass on the different sites.
Next week we will be Livestreaming our daily Masses on Facebook, beginning at 9:30 AM, Monday through Friday.

Personally, I am so very grateful to Fathers Greg and Steve and the thousands of priest throughout the world who work so hard to bring us Mass every of these trying times!

After Mass I treated myself to brunch, as you can see here! This is how I usually spend every Sunday – Mass and then brunch at Homebaked, but brunch today was at my home!

POPE ANNOUNCES EXTRAORDINARY URBI ET ORBI BLESSING

At the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis invited all Christians to join together in praying the Our Father as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
By Christopher Wells

Pope Francis on Sunday called for all Christians to respond to the coronavirus pandemic “with the universality of prayer, of compassion, of tenderness,” adding, “Let us remain united. Let us make our closeness felt toward those persons who are the most lonely and tried.”

Speaking after the traditional recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father called on all Christians to join together in prayer. “In these trying days, while humanity trembles due to the thread of the pandemic, I would like to propose to all Christians that together we lift our voices towards Heaven.”

The “Our Father” on the Annunciation

On Wednesday, March 25, feast of the Annunciation, he invited “the Heads of the Churches and the leaders of every Christian community, together with all Christians of the various confessions, to invoke the Almighty, the omnipotent God, to recite at the same time the prayer that Jesus, our Lord, taught us – the Our Father.”

“On that day on which many Christians recall the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary of the Incarnation of the Word,” Pope Francis prayed, “may the Lord listen to the united prayer of all of His disciples who are preparing themselves to celebrate the victory of the Risen Christ.”

A special Urbi et Orbi blessing

The Pope also announced that on the following Friday, March 27, he will preside over a moment of prayer on the sagrato of St Peter’s Basilica, the platform at the top of the steps immediately in front of the façade of the Church. “I invite everyone to participate spiritually through the means of communication,” he said, referring to the fact this would be done without the presence of the faithful in the square.

The ceremony will consist in readings from the Scriptures, prayers of supplication, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; and will conclude with Pope Francis giving the Urbi et orbi Blessing, with the possibility of gaining a plenary indulgence for all those who listen to it live through the various forms of communication. The blessing “to the City [of Rome] and to the World” is normally only given on Christmas and Easter.

The Director of the Holy See Press Office confirmed that the moment of prayer on Friday will be broadcast live from the Vatican, beginning at 6 pm Rome time. He noted that the plenary indulgence attached to the Urbi et orbi blessing is subject to the conditions foreseen by the recent Decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary.
Prayers for Croatia

At the close of his remarks following the Angelus, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the people of Croatia, which was struck by magnitude 5.4 earthquake Sunday morning. The Holy Father prayed, “May the Risen Lord give them the strength and solidarity to face this calamity.”

COMMUNIQUE FROM PAPAL ALMSGIVER

The Holy Father’s almsgiver, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, sent out a note Saturday in which he wrote that he “wishes to sincerely thank all the volunteers and people of good will who continue to take care of the poorest and most needy, especially the homeless who live on the street, and do not abandon them right now at this even more difficult time. These brothers of ours not only don’t have a home, but now they can’t even ask for charity to buy something to eat. Now more than ever, they “depend” on our heart. Mercy is a very concrete word and only “charity covers a multitude of sins” (1Pt 4,8).”

He added that, “the office of the papal almoner also wishes to express its gratitude to all those companies and commercial entities that in these days have generously donated their products to prepare the “envelope of the heart” (tuna, small canned goods, fruit, cheese, packaged salami, bread …) which, in place of lunches and dinners, is offered to the poor by various soup kitchens, dormitories, parishes, voluntary associations and religious communities. An example comes from the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo that send hundreds of packs of fresh milk and yogurt daily.

“As for the soup kitchens, parishes and associations that prepare packed lunches or help the poor of the street in other forms,” the communique ended, “if they find themselves in difficulty, financially or due to the lack of food, they can contact the almoner via his cell phone (he gave his Roman number here), as he remains available also for those who wish to donate food useful for preparing meals, to receive them directly or direct them to other charitable realities that help the poor homeless.”

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!