St. Stephen (martyred in 35 A.D. ) – Saint Stephen was one of the first seven deacons and the first Christian martyr. Most of what is known about him is found in the Acts of the Apostles. He was one of the seven men selected among the disciples to care for widows and the poor (Acts 6:1). He was known to be a man filled with grace and power and who worked great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8). His strong foundation in the faith is clear from his speech before being stoned to death. (Acts 7:1-51). St. Stephen was not afraid to preach the Gospel amidst a crowd that falsely accused him of blasphemy. He was a man filled with the Holy Spirit, who with great charity, fell to his knees and prayed for his persecutors as they stoned him:
They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:59-60).
St. James the Lesser (martyred in 62 A.D.) – Saint James was deeply convicted of the link between Christianity and charity. He was a known for his prayer life and devotion to the poor. As the first Bishop of Jerusalem, he wrote, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). St. James encouraged perseverance in trial as he said: “The testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3-4). He exhorted the early Christians to be “doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22).