Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, used his homily on the day after Christmas–the feast day of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr–to encourage the approximately 1.3 billion baptized Catholics worldwide to be more forgiving.
“We are called to learn from him (St. Stephen) to forgive, to always forgive, and it is not easy to do, we all know,” the 82-year-old Pope said. “Forgiveness enlarges the heart, generates sharing, gives serenity and peace.”
More than 25,000 people converged on St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 26 to hear Pope Francis talk about St. Stephen who was not only martyred for his religious beliefs but who even forgave those who were taking his life while he was being stoned to death. His last words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” are recorded in Chapter 7 of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 7:54-60).
St. Stephen was one of the first ordained deacons of the Church (in Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches, a deacon is an ordained minister of an order ranking below that of priest). He is credited with many miracles performed during his short 34-years of life.