"Following the Gospel is certainly a demanding path," but Christians are given peace by God in all circumstances, the Pope said today during his annual St Stephen's Day address.
Speaking before thousands gathered in St Peter's Square, Francis highlighted the witness of St Stephen - the first martyr of the Church - who he said "shows us how to live in the fullness of the mystery of Christmas".
"Stephen honoured the coming into the world of the King of Kings, offering to him the gift of his own life," the Pope said. "And if not all are called, as Saint Stephen was, to shed their own blood, nonetheless, every Christian is called in every circumstance to be to live a life that is coherent with the faith he or she professes."
Pointing to Matthew 10:22, which says 'You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved', Francis added that Jesus' words: "Do not disrupt the celebration of Christmas, but strip it of that false saccharine-sweetness that does not belong to it.
"It makes us understand that in the trials accepted on account of the faith, violence is overcome by love, death by life," he explained.
"To truly welcome Jesus in our existence, and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is precisely the one indicated in this Gospel: that is, to bear witness in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current."
The Pope also said that following the Gospel "is certainly a demanding path, but those who travel it with fidelity and courage receive the gift promised by the Lord to men and women of good will.
"At Bethlehem, in fact, the angels announced to the shepherds, 'on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests'. This peace given by God is able to soothe the conscience of those who, through the trials of life, know to welcome the Word of God and observe it with perseverance to the end," he said.
The Pope concluded his address by praying for persecuted Christians around the world. "I want to say to each of them: If you carry this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas, you are in the heart of Jesus and of the Church," he said.
"Let us pray also that, thanks to the sacrifices of the martyrs of today, the commitment to recognise and concretely to ensure religious liberty — an inalienable right of every human person — would be strengthened in every part of the world."
He also greeted "everyone named Stephen or Stephanie" in particular, offering them his best wishes.
"And please, continue to pray for me. Don't forget!" he finished. "Happy Feast Day, and have a good lunch. Arrivederci!"