This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:20 am in Paul VI Hall, 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 meditated on the theme: “In a short time you think to make me a Christian!” (Acts 26:28) — Paul is a prisoner before King Agrippa (Biblical passage: Acts of the Apostles 26:22-23).
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!
In the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, the journey of the Gospel continues in the world, and the seal of suffering marks increasingly Paul’s witness. However, this is something that grows over time in Paul’s life. Paul isn’t only the evangelizer full of ardour, the intrepid missionary among the pagans, who gives life to new Christian communities, but he is also the suffering witness of the Risen One (Cf. Acts 9:15-16).
The Apostle’s arrival in Jerusalem, described in chapter 21 of the Acts, unleashes a ferocious hatred in his regard; they reprimand him: “But he was a persecutor! Don’t trust him!” As it was for Jesus, for Paul also Jerusalem is the hostile city. Going to the Temple, he is recognized; <he is> led outside to be lynched, and saved in extremis by the Roman soldiers. Accused of teaching against the Law and the Temple, he is arrested and begins his prisoner’s pilgrimage, first before the Sanhedrin, then before the Roman Procurator in Caesarea and finally before King Agrippa. Luke shows the similarity between Paul and Jesus, both hated by their adversaries, accused publicly and acknowledged innocent by the imperial Authorities and so Paul is associated to his Master’s Passion, and his passion becomes a living Gospel. I <have> come from Saint Peter’s Basilica, where this morning I had an audience earlier with Ukrainian pilgrims from a Ukrainian diocese. How these people have been persecuted; how much they have suffered for the Gospel! However, they didn’t negotiate the faith. They are an example. Today, many Christians in the world, in Europe, are persecuted and give their life for the faith, or are persecuted with white gloves, namely, left aside, marginalized . . . Martyrdom is the air of a Christian’s life, of a Christian community. There will always be martyrs among us: this is the sign that we are following Jesus’ way. It’s a blessing of the Lord, that there be in the People of God, a man or a woman who gives this witness of martyrdom.
Paul is called to defend himself from the accusations and, in the end, in the presence of King Agrippa II, his apologia changes into an effective witness of faith (Cf. Acts 26:1-23). Then Paul recounts his own conversion: the Risen Christ has made him Christian and has entrusted to him the mission among the Gentiles, “that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of their sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith” in Christ (v. 18). Paul obeyed this charge and did nothing other than show how the prophets and Moses announced what he now proclaims: “that the Christ must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles” (v. 23).
Paul’s passionate witness touches the heart of King Agrippa, who is only lacking the decisive step. And the King says thus: ”In a short time you think to make me a Christian!” (v. 28). Paul is declared innocent, but he cannot be released because he has appealed to Caesar. Thus, the unstoppable journey of the Word of God continues towards Rome. Paul, in chains, will end up here in Rome.
Henceforth, Paul’s portrait is that of a prisoner whose chains are the sign of his fidelity to the Gospel and of the testimony rendered to the Risen One. The chains are certainly a humiliating test for the Apostle, who appears to the eyes of the world as a “criminal” (2 Timothy 2:9). However, his love for Christ is so strong that even these chains are read with the eyes of faith; faith that for Paul isn’t “a theory, an opinion on God and on the world,” but “the impact of the love of God on his heart, [. . . ] it’s love for Jesus Christ.” (Benedict XVI, Homily on the Occasion of the Pauline Year, June 28, 2008).
Dear brothers and sisters, Paul teaches us perseverance in trials and the capacity to read all with the eyes of faith. Let us ask the Lord today, through the intercession of the Apostle, to revive our faith and to help us to be faithful to the end to our vocation of Christians, of disciples of the Lord, of missionaries.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the Missionaries of Charity; and the parish groups, especially those of Mendicino and of Faro-Fiumicino. In addition, I greet the personnel of the Police Headquarters of Crotone, the Feasts of Mesagne Committee; the delegations of the Municipalities of Introd and of Bolsena; the group of professionals and doctors in Optometry; and the Friends of the Blessed Pellesi Association of San Michele dei Mucchietti-Sassuolo.
Finally, I greet the young people, the elderly, the sick and the newlyweds. Observed next Friday is the Memorial of Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr. I wish all of you that the light of the Child Jesus, now on the horizon, may invade your life with His blessing.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]