Pope says St Stephen 'offered as a gift his life in service for the poorest'

The day after Christmas Day, Pope Francis warned Catholics about two related temptations: giving Christmas a “false, sugary coating” and not putting the faith one professes into action.

Reciting the Angelus on December 26 – a holiday in Italy and the feast of St Stephen, the martyred deacon who served the poor – the Pope said Stephen “honoured the coming into the world of the king of kings, gave witness to him and offered as a gift his life in service for the poorest. In that way, he shows us how to fully live the mystery of Christmas.”

In the day’s Gospel reading from St Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”

The reading, Pope Francis said, doesn’t “break up the celebration of Christmas, but it strips it of that false, sugary coating that does not belong to it”.

“If we really want to welcome Jesus into our lives and prolong the joy of that holy night,” he said, “the path is indicated by this Gospel: Give witness to Christ in humility, in silent service, without being afraid of going against the current and paying the price.”

Not everyone is called to martyrdom, he said, “but every Christian is called in every situation to be consistent with the faith he or she professes”.

One cannot say, “‘I’m a Christian,’ and live like a pagan,” the Pope said.

Remembering St Stephen as the first Christian martyr, Pope Francis also urged the thousands of people gathered in St Peter’s Square to pray for “all those who are discriminated against, persecuted and killed for their witness of Christ. I want to say to each of them: If you carry this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas, and you are in the heart of Christ and of the Church.”

The Pope also asked for prayers that “the sacrifice of today’s martyrs – and they are many – would strengthen in every part of the world the commitment to recognising and concretely assuring religious freedom, which is the inalienable right of every human person.”