VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis paid tribute on Monday to Middle East Christians who have clung to their faith during persecution by Islamist militants, saying there are more Christians martyrs now than in the Church's early days.
The pope spoke to thousands of people in St. Peter's Square for his holiday blessing on the feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
He mentioned the persecution of Christians in Iraq, many of whom where able to spend their first Christmas since 2013 in churches after towns and cities were retaken from Islamic State.
"This was an example of fidelity to the Gospel," he said. "Despite trials and dangers, they courageously show that they belong to Christ," he said.