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GENERAL AUDIENCE: On Week of Prayer for Christian Unity -‘They Showed Us Unusual Kindness’ (Acts 28: 2)

‘May the example of the Apostle of the Gentiles, support us in the mission to proclaim the Salvation of Christ to all, committing our best energies’

This morning’s General Audience was held at 9:15 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.

In his address in Italian, the Pope focused his meditation on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity “They showed us unusual kindness,” (Cf. Acts 28:2).

After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present. Then he made an appeal to prayer for peace and dialogue on the occasion of the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated on January 25.

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

* * *

The Holy Father’s Catechesis

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Today’s catechesis is in tune with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year’s theme is that of hospitality, which was carried out by the communities of Malta and Gozo, from the passage of the Acts of the Apostles, which talks about the hospitality offered by the inhabitants of Malta to Saint Paul and his travel companions, shipwrecked along with him. In fact I referred to this episode in the catechesis of two weeks ago.

We begin again, therefore, from the dramatic experience of the shipwreck. The ship in which Paul was traveling is at the mercy of the elements. They have been adrift in the sea for fourteen days, and because neither the sun nor the stars are visible, the travellers feel disorientated, lost. Under them the sea breaks violently against the ship, and they fear that it will break under the force of the waves. From above, the wind and the rain lash them. The force of the sea and of the storm is terribly powerful and indifferent to the destiny of the sailors: there were over 260 persons!

However, Paul who knows that it’s not so, speaks. Faith tells him that his life is in God’s hands, who resurrected Jesus from the dead, and who has called him, Paul, to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. His faith tells him also that God, according to what Jesus has revealed, is a loving Father. Therefore, Paul turns to his travelling companions and, inspired by faith, proclaims to them that God will not permit a hair of their head to be lost.

This prophecy comes true when the ship runs aground on the coast of Malta and all the passengers reach terra firma safe and sound. And there they experience something new. In contrast with the brutal violence of the sea in the storm, they receive the testimony of the “unusual kindness” of the Island’s inhabitants. These people, foreign to them, show themselves attentive to their needs. They light a fire so they can get warm; they offer them shelter from the rain and food. Even though they haven’t yet received the Good News of Christ, they manifest the love of God in concrete acts of kindness. In fact, spontaneous hospitality and caring gestures communicate something of the love of God. And the hospitality of the Maltese islanders is repaid by miracles of healing that God works through Paul on the Island. So, if the people of Malta were a sign of God’s Providence for the Apostle, he was also a witness of the merciful love of God for them.

Dearests, hospitality is important, and is also an important ecumenical virtue. It means, first of all, to recognize that other Christians are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are brothers. Someone might say to you: “But he is Protestant, he is Orthodox . . . “ Yes, but we are brothers in Christ. It’s not a one- way act of generosity, because when we host other Christians, we welcome them as a gift made to us. As the Maltese — these good Maltese — we are repaid, because we receive what the Holy Spirit has sown in these brothers and sisters of ours, and this becomes a gift also for us, because the Holy Spirit also sows His graces everywhere. To receive Christians of another tradition means, in the first place, to show God’s love for them, because they are children of God — our brothers –, and it means, moreover, to receive what God has done in their life. Ecumenical hospitality requires the willingness to listen to others, paying attention to their personal stories of faith and to the story of their community of faith with another tradition, different from ours. Ecumenical hospitality implies the desire to know the experience that other Christians have of God and the expectation to receive the spiritual gifts that stem from it. And this is a grace; to discover this is a gift. I think of past times, of my land, for instance. When some Evangelical missionaries came, a small group of Catholics went to burn their tents. This is not on; it’s not Christian. We are brothers, we are all brothers and we must offer hospitality to one another.

Today, the sea on which Paul and his companions were shipwrecked is once again a dangerous place for the life of other sailors. Throughout the world men and women migrants face risky journeys to flee from violence, to flee from war, to flee from poverty. Like Paul and his companions, they experience the indifference, the hostility of the desert, of the rivers, of the seas . . . So many times they are not allowed to disembark in ports. But, unfortunately, sometimes they meet with the far worse hostility of men; criminal traffickers exploit them: today! Some rulers treat them as numbers and as a threat: today! Sometimes inhospitality rejects them like a wave to the poverty or the dangers from which they fled.

We, as Christians, must work together to show to migrants the love of God revealed by Jesus Christ. We can and we must witness that there is not only hostility and indifference, but that every person is precious to God and loved by Him. The divisions that still exist among us impede us from being fully a sign of the love of God. To work together to live ecumenical hospitality, in particular towards those whose life is more vulnerable, will make all of us Christians — Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, all Christians  — better human beings, better disciples and a more united Christian people. It will bring us closer ultimately to the unity, which is the Will of God for us.

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

In Italian

A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking faithful. In particular, I greet the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chambery and the young people of the Focolare Movement. Moreover, I greet the pilgrims of the Diocese of Termoli-Larino, accompanied by the Bishop, Monsignor Gianfranco De Luca; the Parishes, in particular those of Gesualdo and of Aprilia; the Group of Italian Financiers of Milan; the Musadoc Cultural Association of Rome and that of Villafranca Sicula. Finally, I greet the young people, the elderly, the sick and the newlyweds. Next Saturday we will celebrate the feast of Saint Paul’s Conversion. May the example of the Apostle of the Gentiles, support us in the mission to proclaim the Salvation of Christ to all, committing our best energies.

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

The Holy Father’s Appeal

Next January 25, in the Far East and in various other parts of the world, many millions of men and women will celebrate the Lunar New Year. I send them my warm greeting, especially wishing families to be places of education to the virtues of hospitality, of wisdom, of respect for every person and of harmony with creation.

I also invite all to pray for peace, for dialogue and for solidarity among the nations: gifts all the more necessary to today’s world.

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

About Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is a Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, at times from the papal flight, and has done television and radio commentary, including for Vatican Radio and BBC. She is a contributor to National Catholic Register, UK Catholic Herald, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, and other Catholic news outlets. She has also collaborated with the Vatican in various projects, including an internship at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and is a collaborator with NBC Universal, NBC News, Euronews, and EWTN. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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