Pope Francis called on the faithful to repay evil with good and break the cycle of hatred in the world with love.
At the Angelus prayer on the feast of Saint Stephen on Dec. 26, the pontiff said the saint was the first person to witness to Jesus with his life, making him the first Christian martyr, which means “witness.”
St. Stephen was “the first of a host of brothers and sisters who continue even today to bring the light into the darkness,” said the pope.
He said these men and women do not succumb to violence but break the chains of hatred with meekness and love.
“In the world’s nights, these witnesses bring God’s dawn,” said Pope Francis.
Quoting the Acts of the Apostles, the pope asked: Are these witnesses to goodness really necessary when the world is rampant with wickedness?”
He said the stories of the early Christians answered the question.
As St. Stephen lay dying from his wounds, he prayed that God might forgive his murderers.
“The text says that among those for whom Stephen prayed and whom he forgave there was ‘a young man named Saul,’ who ‘was consenting to his death,’” said the pope.
“Saul” would become “Paul,” who was described by Pope Francis as the greatest missionary in history.
“Paul was born by God’s grace, but through Stephen’s forgiveness, his witness. That was the seed of his conversion. This is the proof that loving actions change history,” said the pope.
He said that even small acts of love can change the course of history because God “guides history through the humble courage of those who pray, love, and forgive.”
Pope Francis said the faithful too can make a difference through the ordinary events of daily life.
“We are called to bear witness to Jesus right where we live, in our families, at work, everywhere,” he said, “even just by giving the light of a smile and fleeing the shadow of gossip and tattle-telling.”
He also offered a piece of advice. Rather than complaining when something is wrong, people should pray for the person who made the mistake.
“Saint Stephen, while he was on the receiving end of the stones of hatred, reciprocated with words of forgiveness. He thus changed history.”
Pope Francis said each one should turn evil into good when one returns love for hatred.
He urged everyone to pray for the many Christians who are facing persecution for their faith in Jesus.
“Let us entrust these brothers and sisters to the Virgin Mary, that they might respond with meekness to oppression and that, as true witnesses to Jesus, they might conquer evil with good.”
Pope Francis said there are many “hidden saints, saints who are next-door, hidden witnesses of life, who with little acts of love change history.”