Saint Francis Xavier: a friend of St Ignatius Loyola and one of the first members of the Company of Jesus; he preached in India and Japan and died in China in 1552.
Saint John Damascene: from Damascus (hence his name); a monk, philosopher and theologian, he sprang to the defence of Sacred Art in the Iconoclast crisis of the eighth century.
Saint Nicholas: bishop of Myra, in what is now Turkey; he died in the fourth century - in Eastern Europe, Saint Nicholas distributes presents to children on this day, in remembrance of his charity and care as a bishop.
Saint Ambrose: born around 340, he was a surprising choice to be Bishop of Milan in 374; renowned for his charity and his eloquence, especially against the Arians, it is said that Saint Augustine returned to his faith after hearing Ambrose preach. A great writer of hymns for the liturgy, some of which survive to this day. He died in 397
Saint Juan Diego Cuahtlatloatzin: The seer of Guadalupe, an Aztec who was granted a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1531, later building a church in her honour. He died in 1548 and was canonised in the Basilica of Guadalupe on May 6, 1990, by Pope John Paul II during his second apostolic journey to Mexico.
Saint Damasus I: born in Spain, he became Pope in 366 and encouraged devotion to the Roman martyrs, writing splendid verses to adorn their resting places. He died in 384.
Our Lady of Guadalupe: The Blessed Virgin appeared to Saint Juan Diego on the mountain of Tepeyac in what is now Mexico in 1531, miraculously leaving her image on his cloak which is still venerated today. Through Saint Juan Deigo the Blessed Virgin calls all peoples to the love of Christ.
Saint Lucy: a Sicilian martyr who died in the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian; she is an example of innocence and faithfulness, and her cult was very popular in the early Church.
Saint John of the Cross: born in 1542. A Carmelite friar and friend of Saint Teresa of Avila, who encouraged him to work for the reform of the order, which he did despite great suffering. A remarkable poet and mystic, he died in Andalusia in 1591.
Saint Peter Canisius: a Dutch Jesuit, active in Germany during the Counter-Reformation, when he wrote a famous catechism. He died in 1597 and is called the second apostle of Germany.
Saint John of Kenty: Born near Krakow in Poland in 1390, after ordination he taught in the University there. He is remembered as an example not just of learning and erudition, but also of remarkable charity and holiness. He died in 1473.
Saint Stephen: the first martyr to shed his blood for Christ, as witness to the newly revealed love of God: as the Second readings from the Office of Readings says: The love then, that Christ brought down from heaven to earth, lifted Stephen from earth to heaven.
Saint John: Johns Gospel is another form of witness to the Word made flesh; as we read his Gospel we are once more presented with the mystery of this Christmas Season.
The Holy Innocents: This feast is a harsh reminder of the reality of the Incarnation: Christ came into the world precisely to take upon himself such suffering, to share in our human condition even to the point of death. In the midst of Christmas, this feast already points us towards Easter, and the mystery of death and resurrection.
Saint Thomas of Canterbury: Thomas was born in London in 1118; he became Chancellor of England and then in 1162 was chosen to be Archbishop of Canterbury. In that position he so strenuously defended the rights of the Church that he made an enemy of King Henry II, who exiled him to France. On his return the followers of the King murdered him in 1170.
31 DecemberSaint Sylvester I: became Pope in 314, and lived through the period of settlement under the Emperor Constantine, though there was trouble with the Arian and the Donatist heresies. He died in 335.