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Pope appeals for persecuted Christians on St Stephen's Day

Francis close to those 'unjustly accused, subjected to violence'

26 December, 12:51
Pope appeals for persecuted Christians on St Stephen's Day (ANSA) - Vatican City, December 26 - Pope Francis on Thursday continued the busy schedule of his first Christmas as the head of the Catholic Church, making an appeal for persecuted Christians in his angelus address on St Stephen's Day.

Francis has spoken out several times on behalf of Christian minorities in many parts of the world, especially the Middle East.

His appeal on the feast of St Stephen, Christianity's first martyr, follows Christmas Day bomb attacks on a Catholic church and a Christian neighbourhood market in Baghdad, Iraq, that killed 38 people. "We are close to those brothers and sisters who, like St.

Stephen, are unjustly accused and subjected to violence of various kinds," said Francis. "This happens especially where religious freedom is still not guaranteed or not fully realized".

The Argentine pontiff repeated the call via his Twitter account, @Pontifex.

"Before the Nativity scene, may we pray in a particular way for those suffering persecution for the faith," Francis posted.

The pope called for everyone, atheists included, to unite in working for peace in his first Christmas Day Urbi et Orbi (to the city and world) address on Wednesday.

"I also invite non-believers to desire peace with that yearning that makes the heart grow: all united, either by prayer or by desire," he said. "But all of us, for peace".

The pope specifically mentioned conflict in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Francis also took time to raise some smiles, praising the many pilgrims who braved the Rome rain to attend his angelus with his distinctive off-the-cuff style.

"You are afraid of the rain," he said. "Well done".