Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pope Hails Persecuted Christians as Modern Martyrs

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Wednesday that Christians faced persecution, torture and death in some parts of the world and continued to be made martyrs for their faith.

In a message to pilgrims on the day after Christmas -- the feast day of St. Stephen, considered the first Christian martyr -- the Pope said Christians who die for their faith pray for forgiveness for their killers.

"We should always note that this is a distinctive characteristic of the Christian martyr -- it is exclusively an act of love, towards God and towards men, including the persecutors," he told crowds in a rainy St. Peter's Square.

"Christian martyrdom reminds us of the victory of love over hatred and death," he said.

St. Stephen was stoned to death by a mob in Jerusalem at a time when Christianity was first starting to spread. The Pope said such martyrdoms continued to this day.

"It is not rare even today that we receive news from various parts of the world of missionaries, priests, bishops, monks, nuns and lay people persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, deprived of their liberty or prevented from exercising it because they are disciples of Christ and apostles of the Gospel," he said.

The Pope did not give any examples, but it is less than two weeks since an Italian Catholic priest was stabbed in his church in Turkey, the latest in a spate of attacks on Christians in the predominantly Muslim country.

Another Italian priest in Turkey was shot dead in his church by a teenager in February, and in April three Christians had their throats cut at a Bible publishing house there.

On Wednesday, Hindu hardliners in India burned and damaged 12 churches, killing at least one person, in an outbreak of violence sparked by the reported injuring of a local Hindu leader by a Christian group.

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