This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:10 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.
Taking up the series of catecheses on the Acts of the Apostles, in his address in Italian the Pope focused his meditation on the theme: “There will be no loss of life among you” (Acts 27:22). The trial of the shipwreck: between God’s salvation and the Maltese’s hospitality (Biblical passage: From the Acts of the Apostles 27:15.21-24).
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 final part, the Book of the Acts of the Apostles recounts that the Gospel continues its course not only by land but by sea, on a ship taking Paul prisoner from Caesarea to Rome (Cf. Acts 27:1-28, 16), in the heart of the Empire, so that the word of the Risen One is realized: “You shall be my witnesses [. . . ] to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Read the Book of the Acts of the Apostles and you will see how the Gospel, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, reaches all peoples, is made universal. Take it. Read it.
From the beginning the sailing met with unfavourable conditions. The journey became dangerous and they were forced to disembark at Mira, board another ship and coast along the southern side of the Island of Crete. Paul advised not to continue the sailing, but the centurion didn’t give him credit and entrusted himself to the pilot and the ship-owner. The journey continues but such a tempestuous wind was unleashed that the crew lost control and let the ship drift.
When death now seemed close and despair pervaded all, Paul intervened. He is the man of faith and knows that that “danger of death” (2 Corinthians 11:23) can’t separate him from the love of Christ (Cf. Romans 8:35) and from the task he has received. Therefore, he reassures his companions saying: “This very night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and lo, God has granted you all those who sail with you’” (Acts 27:23-24). Even in trial, Paul doesn’t cease to be custodian of others’ life and animator of their hope.
Luke thus shows us that the plan that guides Paul to Rome saves not only the Apostle but also his travel companions, and the shipwreck, from a situation of tragedy is changed into a providential opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. The shipwreck is followed by the landing on the Island of Malta, whose inhabitants demonstrate a caring reception. The Maltese are good, they are meek, they are welcoming already from that time. It is raining and it’s cold, and they light a bonfire to ensure a bit of warmth and relief to the shipwrecked. Here too, as true disciple of Christ, Paul gets to work to fuel the fire with some branches. During these operations he was bitten by a viper but suffered no harm. Seeing this, the people said: “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, he ends up being bitten by a viper!” They were waiting for the moment he would fall dead, but he didn’t suffer any harm and is even changed – from being taken as a murderer to a divinity. In reality, that benefit came from the Risen Lord who assisted him, according to the promise made before ascending to Heaven and addressed to believers: “They will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” Mark 16:18). History says that from that moment there are no serpents in Malta: this is God’s blessing for the welcome of these very good people.
In fact, the sojourn in Malta becomes for Paul the propitious occasion to give “flesh” to the word that he proclaims and thus exercise a ministry of compassion in the healing of the sick. And this is a law of the Gospel: when a believer has the experience of salvation, he doesn’t keep it to himself but circulates it. “The good always tends to communicate itself. Every experience of truth and beauty seeks its expansion, and every person that lives a profound liberation acquires greater sensitivity in face of others’ needs” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 9). A “tried” Christian can certainly make himself close to one who suffers, because he knows what suffering is, and renders his heart open and sensitive to solidarity towards others. Paul teaches us to live trials by staying close to Christ, to mature the “conviction that God can act in any circumstance, even in the midst of apparent failures” and the “certainty that one who offers himself and gives himself to God out of love, will surely be fruitful” (Ibid., 279). Love is always fruitful, the love of God is always fruitful, and if you let the Lord take you and you receive the Lord’s gifts, this will enable you to give them to others. God’s love always goes beyond.
Let us ask the Lord today to help us to live every trial sustained by the energy of faith; and to be sensitive to the many shipwrecked of history that land exhausted on our coasts, because we also are able to receive them with that fraternal love that comes form the encounter with Jesus. This is what saves from the ice of indifference and of inhumanity.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
Among you there is a group from Australia: I would like to ask all to pray to the Lord to help the people in this difficult moment with that strong fire. I am close to the people of Australia.
A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the members of the Institutes and Congregations that refer to the spirituality of Saint Vincent of Paul; and a group of priests of the Archdiocese of Genoa, accompanied by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco. In addition, I greet the parish groups, in particular that of Terracina; the delegations of the Municipality of Asti – these <people> of Asti are good: they have brought the hot dip – and of the Province of Belluno; and the directors and artists of the “Water” Circus.
Finally, I greet the young people, the elderly, the sick and the newlyweds. Next Sunday we will celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Rediscover the grace that comes from the Sacrament and be able to translate it into life’s daily commitments. And I would like every one of us to know the date of his Baptism: we certainly know our birthday, the date of our birth, but how many of you know the date of your Baptism? Few . . . as it’s not celebrated, it’s forgotten. I give you a task to do at home: ask your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends: “When was I baptized? And always keep that date of your Baptism in your heart to thank the Lord for the grace of Baptism.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]