Pope Benedict XVI has declared in one of his key Christmas messages that believers facing persecution, torture and death in some parts of the world and those who die forgiving their killers are a sign of hope and faith for humanity.
In a message delivered to pilgrims in Rome on the day after Christmas - the feast day of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr - the head of trhe world's 1.2 million Catholics commended Christians who die for their faith praying for forgiveness for their killers.
"We should always note that this is a distinctive characteristic of the Christian martyr - it is exclusively an act of love, towards God and towards [humanity], including the persecutors," he told crowds in a rainy St Peter's Square.
"Christian martyrdom reminds us of the victory of love over hatred and death," the Pope declared.
St Stephen was stoned to death by a mob in Jerusalem at a time when Christianity was first starting to spread. The Pope said such martyrdoms continued to this day.
"It is not rare even today that we receive news from various parts of the world of missionaries, priests, bishops, monks, nuns and lay people persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, deprived of their liberty or prevented from exercising it because they are disciples of Christ and apostles of the Gospel," he added.
It is less than two weeks since an Italian Catholic priest was stabbed in his church in Turkey, the latest in a spate of attacks on Christians in the predominantly Muslim country.
Another Italian priest in Turkey was shot dead in his church by a teenager in February, and in April three Christians had their throats cut at a Bible publishing house there.
Today, which is also populary known as Boxing Day, on a ccount of trdaitions about the wrapping of gifts for servants, Hindu nationalist hardliner in India are reported as having burned and damaged 12 churches, killing at least one person.
The Pope has also recently strongly condemned all violence in the name of God, including that committed by those who call themselves Christians. His Christmas sermon emphasised Christ as the Prince of Peace.