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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Last Wednesday we began a brief cycle of catecheses on the Sacraments, beginning with Baptism. And I would like to reflect on Baptism also today, to underline a very important fruit of this Sacrament: it makes us become members of the Body of Christ and of the People of God. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that, whoever receives Baptism is incorporated with Christ, almost as his very member and is added to the community of the faithful (cf. Suma Theologiae, III, q. 69, art. 5; q. 70, art. 1), that is, the people of God. In the school of the Second Vatican Council, we say today that Baptism makes us enter in the People of God, it makes us become members of a People that are journeying, a pilgrim people in history.
In fact, as life is transmitted from generation to generation, so also is grace transmitted from generation to generation, through rebirth at the baptismal font and, with this grace, the Christian people journey in time as a river that irrigates the earth and spreads God’s blessing in the world. From the moment that Jesus says what we heard in the Gospel, the disciples went to baptize; and from that time to the present there is a chain in the transmission of the faith through Baptism. And each one of us is a link in that chain: a step forward, always; like a river that irrigates. Such is the grace of God and so is our faith, that we should transmit to our children, because they, as adults, can transmit it to their children. So it is with Baptism. Why? Because Baptism makes us enter into this People of God that transmits the faith. This is very important. A People of God that walks and transmits faith.
In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples, called to take the Gospel to the world (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 120). “ All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization … The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.” (Ibid). of all, of all the people of God, a new personal involvement from each of the baptized. The People of God are a Disciple People – because it receives faith – and Missionary – because it transmits faith. And Baptism does this in us. It gives us the Grace and transmits faith. All of us in the Church are disciples, and we are so always, for our whole life; and we are all missionaries, each one in the place the Lord has assigned to him. Everyone: the smallest is also a missionary; and the one who looks like the greatest is a disciple. But some of you may say: “The Bishops are not disciples, the Bishops know everything; the Pope knows everything, he is not a disciple.” No, even the Bishops and the Pope need to be disciples, because if they are not disciples they are not doing good, they cannot be missionary, they cannot transmit the faith. All of us are disciples and missionaries.
There is an indissoluble bond between the mystical and the missionary dimension of the Christian vocation, both rooted in Baptism. “On receiving faith and Baptism, we Christians welcome the action of the Holy Spirit that leads us to confess Jesus Christ as Son of God and to call God “Abba,” Father! All of us baptized men and women … are called to live and transmit communion with the Trinity, because evangelization is an appeal to participation in the Trinitarian communion” (Final Document of Aparecida, n. 157).
No one is saved on his own. We are a community of believers, we are People of God and in this community we experience the beauty of sharing the experience of a love that precedes us all, but which at the same time asks us to be “channels” of grace for one another, despite our limitations and sins. The communal dimension is not just a “frame,” a “garnish,” but an integral part of Christian life, of witness and of evangelization. Christian faith is born and lives in the Church and, in Baptism, families and parishes celebrate the incorporation of a new member of Christ in His Body which is the Church (cf. Ibid., n. 175b).
In connection with the importance of Baptism for the People of God, the history of the Christian community in Japan is exemplary. They endured a harsh persecution at the beginning of the 17th century. There were numerous martyrs; members of the clergy were expelled and thousands of faithful were killed. There was not one priest remaining in Japan, all were expelled. Then the community withdrew into the underground, keeping the faith and prayer in hiding. And when a child was born, the father or the mother would baptize them, because all the faithful can baptize in particular circumstances. When after close to two and a half centuries, 250 years later, the missionaries returned to Japan, thousands of Christians came out into the open and the Church was able to flower again. They survived with the grace of their Baptism! This is great: the People of God transmits faith, baptized their children and goes forward. And they maintained, though in secret, a strong community spirit, because Baptism made them become one body in Christ: they were isolated and hidden, but always members of the People of God, members of the Church. We can learn so much from this story!
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Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Today we continue our catechesis on the sacrament of baptism by reflecting on how, through baptism, we become members of Christ’s mystical body, the Church. In every generation, through baptism, we are reborn to the new life of grace and called to be witnesses of the Gospel before the world. Baptism makes us “missionary disciples” within the communion of the Church. There is a close bond, then, between our rebirth in water and the Holy Spirit, our responsibility to live this new life within the Church, in our families and our parishes, and our mission to bring the Gospel to others as channels of God’s grace. We can look to the remarkable history of the Church in Japan, where small communities of the faithful survived clandestinely for over two centuries thanks to the grace of baptism. May this example help us to appreciate more fully the profound mystical, communitarian and missionary dimensions of our baptism.
Pope Francis (in Italian):
I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience. Upon you and your families I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!
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The Pope said to Arabic-speaking pilgrims:
Dear Arabic-speaking brothers and sisters from Jordan and the Holy Land:
Learn from the Japanese Church that, because of the persecutions of the seventeenth century, withdrew into hiding for close to two and a half centuries, handing down from one generation to the next, the ever enkindled flame of faith. When difficulties and persecutions are lived with confidence, trust and hope, they purify and strengthen the faith. Be true witnesses of Christ and of his Gospel, authentic children of the Church, always ready to give reason for your hope, with love and respect. May the Lord guard your life and bless you!
To Italian-speaking pilgrims:
I give a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking faithful. In particular, I greet the faithful of the Diocese of Civitavecchia-Tarquinia accompanied by their Bishop, Monsignor Luigi Marrucci; the students of the Diocese of Caserta – these Casertians are noisy!, with the Apostolic Administrator, Monsignor Angelo Spinillo and those of the Institute of the Immaculate Sisters of Rome; the Dominican Missionary Sisters of Saint Sixtus, who are observing the centenary of the death of their Founder, Mother Antonia Lalia. I greet, moreover, the priests of the Secular Institute of Regality, the Lions Club with the Bishop, Monsignor Luigi Renzo and the Lancers of Aosta, who helped the immigrants of Lampedusa.
I exhort all to live their ecclesial commitment with generosity, so that the Lord will fill hearts with the joy that He alone can give.
I address a special greeting to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, a propitious occasion to think again about our belonging to Christ in the faith of the Church. Dear young people, rediscover daily the grace that comes from Baptism. You, dear sick, draw from Baptism the strength to face moments of pain and discomfort. And you, dear newlyweds, be able to translate the commitments of Baptism into your family life. Thank you.
(Translation by ZENIT)