Persecution powers evangelization and guidance is needed to understand the Word of God.
These were key points Pope Francis made October 2, 2019, in his ongoing commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, presented during his General Audience in St. Peter’s Square.
First, the Holy Father explains the actions of the apostles following the martyrdom of Stephen. Such a tragedy was frightening but didn’t dampen the spirit to evangelize for long.
“After Stephen’s martyrdom, the ‘race’ of the Word of God seems to suffer a setback, given the outbreak of ‘a great persecution against the Church in Jerusalem’ (Acts 8:1),” the Pope explained. “Following this, the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem, while other Christians dispersed in other places of Judea and in Samaria. In the Book of the Acts, the persecution appears as the permanent state of life of the disciples, in keeping with what Jesus said: ‘If they persecuted me, they will persecute you’ (John 15:20).
“However, instead of extinguishing the fire of evangelization, the persecution fuels it even more. “We have heard what Deacon Philip did, who began to evangelize the cities of Samaria, and numerous were the signs of liberation and healing that accompanied the proclamation of the Word. At this point, the Holy Spirit marks a new stage of the Gospel’s journey: he drives Philip to go and meet a stranger with a heart open to God.”
The stranger Philip met, the Holy Father continued, was a government minister from Ethiopia. He was reading from a scroll of Isaiah but admitted he needed help to understand the text. Philip provided guidance and the man came to believe.
“Philip offers his interlocutor the key to the reading: that meek suffering Servant, who doesn’t react to evil with evil and who, although considered a failure and sterile and, finally, taken out of their midst, liberates the people from iniquity and bears fruit for God; it is in fact that Christ, whom Philip and the whole Church proclaim!” the Holy Father explained. “Who with Easter has redeemed us all. Finally, the Ethiopian acknowledges Christ and asks for Baptism and professes faith in the Lord Jesus.”