VATICAN CITY (AP) Pope Benedict XVI Monday marked the feast of Christianitys first martyr, noting that Christians still are persecuted for their faith in some parts of the world.
Benedict addressed crowds in St. Peters Square in his traditional blessing the day after Christmas, which is the feast of St. Stephen, a disciple who was stoned to death for saying he had seen Christ standing at the right hand of God.
How can we not recognize that even these times, in various parts of the world, professing Christian faith requires the heroism of martyrs? the pontiff said.
Benedict did not mention by name countries where Christians are still persecuted, but the Vatican has expressed concern about Iraq , where the constitution promises religious freedom but says Islam is a fundamental source of legislation.
The Holy See also has been pushing for greater religious freedom in China , whose officially atheistic communist government allows Catholics to worship only in tightly controlled state churches. Those who meet in other churches are frequently harassed, fined and sometimes sent to labor camps.