Today is the feast of our first martyr, St Stephen, and as we honour him and his sacrifice, we also remember all of those who have followed in his steps - all the martyrs of the Church.
As we were celebrating yesterday we heard the tragic news of the murder of many Christians in Nigeria by Muslims. A Catholic Church, St Teresa's, was bombed as Christmas Day Mass was being offered - what an awful thing to do on one of the holiest days of the Christian year.
Our first reaction, being human, is anger. How could they murder innocent people as they worship their God, these same people who come to Christian countries and demand that we respect their religious views, expect permission for their mosques to be constructed? As their coreligionists massacre members of our faith on a daily basis, particularly in countries like Pakistan which receives millions of Euro each in aid from Christian agencies, should we not finally react?
Well, the example of St Stephen answers that question: we forgive, we pray for those who persecute us, we extend, even though it may cost us, the hand of friendship and reconciliation. Of course we recognise that these killers do not represent all Muslims, no more than Christians who have killed, abused or committed serious crimes represent all Christians. And though this may be politically incorrect, and some of my fellow Christians will disagree with me for saying this, we pray for their conversion: that they, like Saul of Tarsus, may come to recognise Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and enter into full communion in his Church under the successor of Peter.
I have no doubt that our new martyrs throughout the world, and those who died for Christ yesterday in Nigeria (may they now share in the vision of God among the martyrs in heaven), are praying for those who killed them, as Stephen prayed for Saul. Stephen converted Saul, and he became St Paul, holy Apostle and the greatest missionary in the Church. May the blood of our martyrs win souls for Christ.
On a personal note, these days are special to me as they are my name days - the Saints after whom I am called: St John the Beloved Disciple (I also consider St John the Baptist my name patron also), and St Stephen. May I ask your prayers?