Above, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout blesses the new bronze and oak doors at St. Stephen Martyr Church in Washington, during a Nov. 20 Mass celebrating the church’s 50th anniversary. The bronze panels, sculpted by Philadelphia artist Anthony Visco, depict the life and death of the Church’s first martyr. The central panel depicts the martyrdom of St. Stephen. An angry mob stones the saint. Overhead are God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and angels fly to St. Stephen to give him his martyr’s crown. The side panels depicting the saint’s life include a relief sculpture showing St. Stephen, one of the first deacons, giving food to the poor (below). Charity continues to be a main ministry of today’s deacons.
Above, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout blesses the new bronze and oak doors at St. Stephen Martyr Church in Washington, during a Nov. 20 Mass celebrating the church’s 50th anniversary. The bronze panels, sculpted by Philadelphia artist Anthony Visco, depict the life and death of the Church’s first martyr. The central panel depicts the martyrdom of St. Stephen. An angry mob stones the saint. Overhead are God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and angels fly to St. Stephen to give him his martyr’s crown. The side panels depicting the saint’s life include a relief sculpture showing St. Stephen, one of the first deacons, giving food to the poor (below). Charity continues to be a main ministry of today’s deacons.
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St. Stephen Martyr Parish in downtown Washington marked the 50th anniversary of its church in a special way on Nov. 20, as Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout blessed the church's dramatic new bronze and oak doors that depict the life and death of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

Located on Pennsylvania Avenue nine blocks from the White House, St. Stephen Martyr Church, according to its pastor, Msgr. Paul Langsfeld, is now carrying out the work of the New Evangelization in a unique way, as its doors illustrate important lessons on what it means to be a follower of Christ.

The bronze panels of the new oak doors at St. Stephen Martyr Church were sculpted by Philadelphia artist Anthony Visco.

The central panels depict an angry mob stoning St. Stephen, whose arm is raised to heaven. Overhead are seen the Holy Trinity, and an angel flies to the saint to bring him his martyr's crown. The story of the saint's life and martyrdom unfold in the Acts of the Apostles 6: 1-15.

"It (the center panel) is a constant reminder to anyone who passes by, that we are called to be witnesses to Christ," Msgr. Langsfeld noted.

The pastor pointed out how the side panels likewise illustrate important aspects of the Christian life, for example, St. Stephen's ordination as a deacon serves as a reminder that "each one of us has a vocation," and the panel showing St. Stephen giving food to the poor shows how "each of us is called to serve the poor."

Msgr. Langsfeld said his favorite panel, however, is the one showing the conversion of St. Paul. "It's a reminder that one who persecuted Stephen and was a party to his death, could be saved by conversion to Christ."

Saul, who held the cloaks of those who stoned St. Stephen and who later persecuted Christians, became St. Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles. "It shows what the grace of Christ can do," the pastor noted.

In his homily at the anniversary Mass, Bishop Knestout pointed out that Jesus described himself as a doorway, a path to heaven. The Eucharist and other sacraments are doorways and thresholds in which to encounter Jesus, the bishop said."We are on a pilgrimage, called to follow in the footsteps of Christ," he said.

Just as each church has its own distinctive architecture and artwork, so too each follower of Christ has his or her own special gifts to offer to God and share with others, the bishop said.

Bishop Knestout encouraged those who walk through the doors of St. Stephen Church to heed the words spoken by Blessed John Paul II at his first Mass as pope, and open wide the doors of their hearts to Christ.

Parishioners at St. Stephen Martyr have a special connection to Pope Benedict XVI, whose popemobile passed right by the church during the pontiff's 2008 visit to Washington. The church also has a special connection to the first Catholic president, John F, Kennedy, who worshipped there with his family during his presidency.

Today, St. Stephen's serves as a spiritual home to 500 parishioners, and to 350 Catholic students from nearby George Washington University who attend Mass there on weekends.

"This parish has always had a very interesting mix. It's had immigrants, prominent people from government, students from George Washington, visitors and tourists from all over the country. It's a wonderful parish," said longtime parishioner Ken Ingram.

At the beginning of the Mass, Msgr. Langsfeld noted, "This is a day to be glad...For 50 years, this Catholic church has served as a spiritual home to Catholics in Foggy Bottom and the West End."

The anniversary Mass and blessing of the new bronze doors proved especially meaningful to Andrew Buonopane, one of the seminarians from the new Blessed John Paul II Seminary who assisted at the Mass. He noted that St. Stephen Church and the nearby Newman Center at George Washington University "is where I grew up in the faith. It's where I first was catechized... Without the witness and teaching of priests and older students who are now seminarians, I wouldn't be where I am today. They've been channels of Christ's grace to me."

One of three seminarians from St. Stephen who served at the Mass, he said the new doors will help today's Catholics be confronted with "what real dying to self is, and what that means in the context of the love of Christ... In a lot of ways, he (St. Stephen) showed what it means to follow in Christ's footsteps."