This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:05 am 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: “What you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). Paul at the Areopagus: an example of inculturation of the faith at Athens (Biblical passage: from the Acts of the Apostles, 17:22-23).
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.
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The Holy Father’s Catechesis
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
We continue our “journey” with the book of the Acts of the Apostles. After the trials lived at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Beroea, Paul landed at Athens, precisely in the heart of Greece (Cf. Acts 17:15). This city, which lived in the shadow of ancient glories despite the political decadence, still had the primacy of culture. Here the Apostle’s “spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). However, this “impact” with paganism instead of making him flee, drove him to create a bridge to dialogue with that culture.
Paul chose to become familiar with the city and so he began to frequent the most significant places and persons. He went to the synagogue, symbol of the life of faith; he went to the Square, symbol of the life of the city; and he went to the Areopagus, symbol of political and cultural life. He met with Jews, Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, and many others. He met all the people, he did not close himself, he went to talk with all the people. Thus Paul observed the culture, he observed Athens’ environment, “starting from a contemplative look” that discovers “that god that dwells in their houses, in their streets and in their Squares: (Evangelii Gaudium, 71). Paul doesn’t look at the city of Athens and the pagan world with hostility, but with the eyes of faith. And this makes us ask ourselves about the way we look at our cities: do we observe them with indifference, with contempt? Or with faith, which recognizes the children of God in the midst of the anonymous crowds?
Paul chooses the look that drives him to create an opening between the Gospel and the pagan world. In the Areopagus, heart of one of the most famous institutions of the ancient world, he gives an extraordinary example of inculturation of the message of the faith: he proclaims Jesus Christ to idol worshippers, and he doesn’t do it by attacking them, but by making himself “pontiff, builder of bridges” (Homily at Saint Martha’s, May 8, 2013). Paul takes his cue from the city’s altar dedicated to “an unknown god” (Acts 17:23) — there was an altar with the writing “to the unknown god” — no image, nothing, only that inscription. Starting from that “devotion” to the unknown god, <in order> to enter into empathy with his listeners he proclaims that God “lives among the citizens” (Evangelii Gaudium, 71) and “He doesn’t hide from those that seek Him with a sincere heart, even if they do so gropingly” (Ibid.). It is precisely this presence that Paul seeks to reveal: “What you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23).
To reveal the identity of the god that the Athenians worship, the Apostles begins from creation, namely, from the biblical faith in the God of revelation, to reach redemption and judgment, namely the Christian message itself. He shows the disproportion between the grandeur of the Creator and the temples built by man, and he explains that the Creator always makes himself sought so that everyone can find Him. Thus, according to a beautiful expression of Pope Benedict XVI, Paul “proclaims Him that men ignore, yet know: the Unknown-Known” (Benedict XVI, Meeting with the World of Culture at the College of the Bernardines, September 12, 2008). Then he invites all to go beyond “the times of ignorance” and to decide for conversion in view of the imminent judgment. Paul thus comes to the kerygma and alludes to Christ, without mentioning Him, describing Him as the “man that God has appointed, and of this, He has given assurance to all men by raising Him for the dead” (Acts 17:31).
And here is the problem. Paul’s word, which up to now had held his interlocutors with bated breath — because it was an interesting discovery –, meets a stumbling block: the Death and Resurrection of Christ seems “folly” (1 Corinthians 23) and arouses scorn and derision. So Paul left: his attempt seemed to have failed; however, some adhered to his word and opened themselves to the faith, among them a man, Dionysius, member of the Areopagus, and a woman, Damaris. At Athens also the Gospel takes root and runs with two voices: that of the man and that of the woman!
Let us also ask the Holy Spirit today to teach us to build bridges with cultures, with those that don’t believe or have a creed different from ours. Always build bridges, always <have> an outstretched hand, no aggression. Let us ask Him for the capacity to inculturate with delicacy the message of faith, placing on those that are in ignorance of Christ a contemplative look, moved by a love that warms even the hardest hearts.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. I greet the Dominicans of the Immaculate Conception; the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the parish groups, especially those of Andria and of San Ferdinando of Puglia. In addition, I greet the Grande Termoli sports group defense; and the primary schools of Rimini and of Riccione.
Finally, I greet the young people, the elderly, the sick and the newlyweds. May the month of November, dedicated to the memory of and prayer for the deceased be for all an occasion to consider the meaning of human existence and of eternal life May this time be an encouragement to understand that life has great value if lived as gift, not only to oneself but to God and to our neighbor.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
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