Despite the chronicle of horrific deaths suffered by early Christians during the vaunted "Age of Martyrs" Pope Francis said Monday that the church has more martyrs today than the early church did.
In remarks Monday to thousands of pilgrims who had gathered in St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, to mark the Feast of Saint Stephen, the Church's first martyr, Francis called on Christians to remember those who died for their Christian faith through history.
"But why does the world persecute Christians?" he asked.
"The world hates Christians for the same reason it hated Jesus: because He brought the light of God and the world prefers the darkness to hide its wicked works.
"We remember that Jesus, himself, at the Last Supper, prayed to the Father to defend Him from the spirit of worldly wickedness. There is conflict between the mentality of the Gospel and that of the world. To follow Jesus means to follow His light, which was lit on that Bethlehem night, and to abandon the darkness of the world," he said.
He then said there are more martyrs in the Church today than in the early Church.
"Today, too, the Church, to bear witness to light and truth, experiences harsh persecution in different places, [to the point of] the supreme test of martyrdom. How many of our brothers and sisters in faith suffer abuse, violence, and are hated for Jesus' sake! I'll tell you something. The martyrs of today are greater in number than those of the first centuries," he said.