Today is the feast day of St Stephen the first martyr whose martyrdom is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. And it is a reminder to us all that faith in Christmas - in the Incarnation of Christ - is not an easy or simple thing. For many of our fellow Christians (especially in the last 18 months) their profession of faith has united them directly with the Passion of our Saviour.
Pope Francis has written a Christmas letter to the Christians of the Middle East to express his closeness to them at a time of “afflictions and tribulations” due to “the continuing hostilities in the region, but especially because of the work of a newer and disturbing terrorist organization.” Though the Pope does not refer to the organization by name, Islamic State militants in recent months have forced hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities from their homes and villages in Iraq.
Listen to the Vatican Radion report HERE.
The full text of Pope Francis' letter is HERE.
On Christmas Eve Pope Francis telephoned refugees sheltered in Kurdistan to express his closeness to them on Christmas night. The telephone call to Father Benoca, who heads the Christian community in the Ankawa Refugee Center near Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan, was broadcast live by an Italian Catholic TV station.
“Christians all over the world are preparing the beautiful feast of Christmas with its humble and heavenly scenes bringing joy, warmth and hope to the hearts of young and old, everywhere in our disenchanted and sad world! We also in Syria are wishing for a Christmas of joy and consolation in the midst of this shameful war which has ravaged our country for almost four years now,” the head of the Melkite Greek Archdiocese of Aleppo wrote.
In the midst of mothers mourning their children killed and widows their lost husbands, Archbishop Jeanbart remembered that Christmas “is the feast of welcome and of Hope. This feast cannot be celebrated without joy in the hearts and smiles on the lips, this is why I have asked the priests of the diocese to organize, each one in his parish, the festive celebrations thanks to a grant coming from the diocesan fund of social works: Cribs and Christmas trees for the children, parties, raffles and Christmas plays for the youth and friendly gatherings for the adults.”Continue reading HERE.
In the Holy Land The Holy City of Jerusalem "is under blood and tears" and religious antagonism jeopardizes its mission of "city of peace and inter-religious coexistence". The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, takes the opportunity of the traditional Christmas message to reconsider with eyes of faith the events that recently marked the lives of the peoples in Holy Land. An account in which pain and hope, despair and consolation intertwine, in a time marked by the visit of Pope Francis, the new Gaza war and the attacks against places of worship.