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Pope denounces violence against modern-day Christian martyrs

Pope Francis on Thursday drew parallels between the martyred St. Stephen and modern victims of religious persecution. He denounced discrimination and violence, especially in countries where religious freedom is guaranteed by law.

By Philip PullellaReuters / December 26, 2013

Pope Francis waves during his Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, December 26. The pope delivered his traditional noon prayer and address to thousands of people in St Peter's Square on the day the Roman Catholic Church commemorates St. Stephen, its first martyr.

Tony Gentile/Reuters

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VATICAN CITY

Pope Francis on Thursday denounced discrimination against Christians, including in countries where religious freedom is guaranteed by law.

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The pope delivered his traditional noon prayer and address to thousands of people in St Peter's Square on the day the Roman Catholic Church commemorates St. Stephen, its first martyr.

The 77-year-old Argentinian asked the crowd for a moment of silent prayer for "Christians who are unjustly accused and are subjected to every type of violence."

Francis, celebrating his first Christmas season as pope, said "limitations and discrimination" against Christians are taking place not only in countries that do not grant full religious freedom but also where "on paper, freedom and human rights are protected."

"This injustice should be denounced and eliminated," he said.

His denunciation of discrimination suffered by Christians came a day after three Christmas Day bombings targeted Christians in Iraq.

Francis did not name any countries, but the Vatican has long urged Saudi Arabia, the site of Islam's holiest places, to lift a ban on Christians worshiping in public.

This year there have been a number of incidents of intolerance and attacks against minority Christians in Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria, and other countries where their rights are guaranteed by law.

Francis, departing from his prepared text, said he was sure that Christians suffering from either discrimination or violence were "more numerous today than in the early times of the Church."

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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