On the Feast of St. Stephen I like saying a word for the men who stoned him. Sure, they did a terrible thing, but their religious convictions made them feel they were right.
St. Luke, in his “Act of the Apostles” identified Stephen’s killers as “members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen.” He went on to say they were Cyprians, Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia.
Here is how they came to be together, far from their homes. Rome had a way of preventing rebellion from the Jews scattered around its Mediterranean’s ports. She rounded up five young Jews from each place, confining them as hostage in Rome for five years, so that the threat of executing those boys kept the people at home from rebelling.
The boys chosen as hostages often were not very religious to begin with, but after being confined for their beliefs, they began taking those beliefs seriously, with many of them becoming so religious that when their five years were up, instead of returning to their home ports, they settled in Jerusalem to take part in the temple worship. There they formed their own “Synagogue of the Roman Freedmen.”
They had come to believe that being religious meant observing kosher, so they were angered by Stephen’s telling people that observing kosher wasn’t important.
One thing that inclines us to be understanding of their motives is that there was a young man watching over the coats they took off to throw better. That young man who was encouraging them was Saul, the future St. Paul.
The case of Saul and those young men should warn us against hating people for views they cling to in all honesty.