Pope Benedict XVI kisses a child as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 2. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Closeness to God gives strength to withstand everything, pope says

  • May 2, 2012

VATICAN CITY -- The church's first martyr found the strength to face his accusers because of his close relationship with God, Pope Benedict XVI said.

St. Stephen, who was accused of blasphemy and stoned to death, upheld the faith and gave witness to Christ as the righteous one proclaimed by the prophets, the pope said during the general audience in St. Peter's Square May 2.

Continuing his catechesis on Christian prayer, the pope focused on St. Stephen, who was "accused of saying that Jesus would destroy the temple and the customs handed down by Moses."

The saint told his accusers the body of Jesus is the new temple of God; it is in Jesus that God and humanity are in true contact, which makes real communion with God and transformation possible, the pope said.

The saint explained how God does not dwell in places made by human hands; the "new true temple where God dwells is in his son," who gathers and unites all people in the sacrament of his body and blood, the pope said.

Today's Christians can draw inspiration from St. Stephen, who found strength during his martyrdom in his relationship with God and by meditating on the history of salvation.

"Our prayer, too, must be nourished by listening to the word of God in communion with Jesus and his church," he said.

In Christ, people can make real contact with God "with the trust and abandon of children who turn to a father who loves them infinitely," he said.

Of the more than 20,000 pilgrims from all over the world who attended the general audience, an altar-server from the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, had the privilege of meeting Pope Benedict.

Armando Sanchez, 17, came to Rome thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

"When they told me that I had this opportunity to go wherever I wanted and meet whomever I wanted, I did think about celebrities, but I said no," Sanchez said in an interview with The Valley Catholic, newspaper of the Brownsville diocese.

At the end of the audience, Sanchez and his mother, Maria de la Luz Sanchez, greeted the pope. The pope shook their hands and blessed the teen.

Sanchez has been a cancer patient for 16 years and has multiple tumors in his heart, brain and optical tracts, according to The Valley Catholic.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation has been fulfilling the wishes of hundreds of thousands of children and teens with life-threatening illnesses since its founding in 1980.

"Many young people would rather go to Disney -- he chose Rome," Oblate Father Michael Amesse told The Valley Catholic. "That speaks volumes. He loves God so much," said Father Amesse, who is rector of Immaculate Conception Cathedral, where Armando is an altar server.

The teen's mother told The Valley Catholic that "Armando is an example for the whole world. He doesn't need or want anyone's help. He takes care of himself. He is very strong."

The teen said he plans on pursuing a career in pathology after high school graduation and that is also discerning the priesthood.

While he briefly went through a period of being angry about his condition, today he said he has accepted it.

"Some people have stressful jobs or pressures at home, this is my cross to carry," he said.

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