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POPE’S GENERAL AUDIENCE: On the Acts of the Apostles & Philip

‘To enter in the Word of God is to be willing to come out of one’s limitations to encounter God and be conformed to Christ who is the living Word of the Father’

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This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:35 in St. Peter’s Square, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.

Continuing with the series of Catecheses on the Acts of the Apostles, in his address in Italian, the Pope focused his meditation on the theme: “He told him the Good News of Jesus (Acts 8:35). Philip and the ‘race’ of the Gospel on new roads.” (Biblical passage: from the Acts of the Apostles 8:5-8).

After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present.

The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.

* * *

The Holy Father’s Catechesis

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

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). 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. Philip rose and went with enthusiasm and, on a deserted and dangerous road he met a minister of the Queen of Ethiopia, the administrator of her treasure. This man, a eunuch, after having been in Jerusalem to worship, is returning to his country. He was a Jewish proselyte of Ethiopia.

Seated in his chariot, he was reading the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, in particular, the fourth canto of the “servant of the Lord.” Philip ran to the chariot and asked him: “Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30). The Ethiopian answered: “How can I unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31). That powerful man recognized he had need of being guided to understand the Word of God. He was a great banker, he was the Minister of the Economy, he had all the power of money, but he knew that without an explanation he couldn’t understand; he was humble. And this dialogue between Philip and the Ethiopian makes one reflect also on the fact that it’s not enough to read the Scripture, one must understand the meaning, find the “juice” by going beyond the “rind,” draw the Spirit that animates the letter. As Pope Benedict said at the beginning of the Synod on the Word of God, “the exegesis, the true reading of Sacred Scripture, is not only a literary phenomenon, [. . . ]. It is the movement of my existence” (Meditation, October 6, 2008). To enter in the Word of God is to be willing to come out of one’s limitations to encounter God and be conformed to Christ who is the living Word of the Father.

So, who is the protagonist of what the Ethiopian was reading? 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!

Who with Easter has redeemed us all. Finally, the Ethiopian acknowledges Christ and asks for Baptism and professes faith in the Lord Jesus. This account is beautiful; however, who drove Philip to go to the desert to meet this man? Who drove Philip to run to the chariot? It was the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the protagonist of evangelization. “Father, I’m going to evangelize.” “Yes, and what do you do?” “Ah, I proclaim the Gospel and I say who Jesus is, I try to convince people that Jesus is God.” Dear, this isn’t evangelization; if the Holy Spirit isn’t there, there isn’t evangelization. This can be proselytism, publicity . . . But evangelization is allowing yourself to be guided by the Holy Spirit; it must be He who drives you to the proclamation, to the proclamation with witness, also with martyrdom, also with the word.

After having made the Ethiopian meet with the Risen One — the Ethiopian encounters the Risen Jesus because he understands that prophecy — Philip disappears, the Spirit takes him and sends him to do something else. I said that the protagonist of evangelization is the Holy Spirit, and what is the sign that you, Christian, are an evangelizer? — Joy, even in martyrdom. And Philip went full of joy elsewhere to preach the Gospel.

May the Spirit make baptized men and women who proclaim the Gospel draw others, not to themselves but to Christ, men and women who are able to make room for God’s action, who are able to render others free and responsible before the Lord.

[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

In Italian

A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking pilgrims.

I’m happy to receive the participants in the meeting, organized by the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, on Mahatma Gandhi; and the Priests of the Pontifical Saint Paul International Missionary College, in Rome. I greet the parishes of Copertino and Livizzano; and the group of young Chinese Catholics of Prato.

A particular thought goes to young people, the elderly, the sick and newlyweds. Today we celebrate the Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels. May their presence reinforce in you the certainty that God accompanies the way of life of each one of you. May they support you in proclaiming and living the Gospel of Christ for a world renewed in the love of God.

[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

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