During the Angelus on the occasion of the feast of St. Stephen — the first Christian martyr — Pope Francis renewed his call for peace and brought attention to the persecution that Christians are facing around the world.

“Today, 2,000 years later, unfortunately we see that the persecution continues: There is persecution of Christians,” the Holy Father said to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

“There are still those, and there are many of them, who suffer and die to bear witness to Jesus, just as there are those who are penalized at various levels for the fact of acting in a way consistent with the Gospel, and those who strive every day to be faithful, without ado, to their good duties, while the world jeers and preaches otherwise.”

The pope drew upon the example of St. Stephen, whose martyrdom is recounted in St. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. Venerated as the protomartyr, or first martyr, St. Stephen was a deacon in the early Church who was killed in Jerusalem around 34 A.D.

The pope observed that the saint was “a man of good repute, who served food to the poor and administered charity,” adding that it was precisely this integrity and unwavering witness to faith that “unleashed the wrath of his adversaries, who stoned him to death mercilessly.”

The pope asked the faithful to juxtapose the figure of St. Stephen, the persecuted, with that of Saul, who later became St. Paul, or “the persecutor,” as a way to understand the process of conversion.

Noting that there was a seemingly “impenetrable wall between them,” the pope underscored the importance of going “beyond appearances,” as it was through St. Stephen’s willingness to die for the faith that the Lord helped germinate the seeds of conversion that led Paul to become a “great apostle.”

“Do I care about and pray for those who, in various parts of the world, still suffer and die for the faith today? So many who are murdered for their faith. And in turn, do I try to bear witness to the Gospel consistently, with meekness and confidence? Do I believe that the seed of goodness will bear fruit even if I do not see immediate results?” the pope asked.

After the recitation of the Angelus, the Holy Father renewed his appeal for peace in light of the spirit of the Nativity of the Lord, a theme that has been at the center of the pontiff’s catechesis during this year’s Advent.

The Holy Father emphasized his closeness to the “Christian communities who suffer discrimination, and I urge them to persevere in charity toward all, striving peacefully for justice and religious freedom,” adding: “I also entrust the invocation of peace of war-torn peoples to the intercession of the first martyr.”

The papal address closed with the pope bringing attention to ongoing global conflicts: “The media show us what war produces: We have seen Syria, we see Gaza. Think of tormented Ukraine. A desert of death. Is this what we want? The people want peace. Let us pray for peace. Let us strive for peace.”