Martyrs Give Victory to Love, Says Pope

Notes That Motivation Is Divine Charity

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 1, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Martyrs achieve the victory of love over hatred, Benedict XVI said on the feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen.

The Pope said this last Wednesday before praying the Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter's Square. He began by recalling how Stephen "was stoned at the gates of Jerusalem and died, like Jesus, invoking forgiveness for his killers."

"The deep bond that unites Christ to his first martyr," said the Holy Father, "is divine charity. And the same love that brought the Son of God ... to obey even unto death on the cross, later brought the apostles and martyrs to give their lives for the Gospel."

"We must always highlight this distinctive characteristic of Christian martyrdom," the Pontiff added. "It is exclusively an act of love, toward God and toward man, including our persecutors."

Benedict XVI continued: "Over the centuries, how many sons and daughters of the Church have followed their example, from the first persecutions of Jerusalem to those of the Roman emperors, and on to the ranks of martyrs of our own times?

"Today, in fact, not infrequently there comes news from various parts of the world of missionaries, priests, bishops, religious and lay faithful, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, deprived of their freedom or prevented from exercising it because they are disciples of Christ and apostles of the Gospel. Sometimes people also suffer and die for communion with the universal Church and faithfulness to the Pope."

He then recalled the Vietnamese martyr Paul Le-Bao-Tinh -- who was also mentioned in the recent encyclical "Spe Salvi" -- and explained how "suffering is transformed into joy by the force of hope that comes from faith" because "Christian martyrs, like Christ and by union with him, intimately accept the cross and transform it into an action of love."

"What from outside is an act of brutal violence, from the inside becomes an act of love," said the Holy Father. "Christian martyrs achieve the victory of love over hatred and death."

The Pontiff concluded his remarks by calling for prayers "for all those suffering because of their faithfulness to Christ and His Church. Mary Most Holy, Queen of Martyrs, help us to be credible witnesses to the Gospel, answering enemies with the disarming power of truth and charity."