“Today in the world, in Europe, many Christians are persecuted and give their lives for their faith, or are persecuted ‘with white gloves’, that is, set aside, marginalized”, the Pope denounced in his Wednesday general audience.

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This Wednesday’s general audience took place in the Paul VI Hall, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and all over the world.

In his address in Italian the Pope focused on the theme “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26: 28). Paul a prisoner before King Agrippa (Acts 26: 22-23).

After summarising his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father addressed special greetings to the groups of faithful present. The General Audience concluded with the recitation of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.

Catechesis of the Holy Father

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In the reading of the Acts of the Apostles, the Gospel continues its journey in the world and the witness of Saint Paul is increasingly marked by the seal of suffering. But this is something that grows with time in the life of Paul. Paul is not only an evangeliser full of ardour, the intrepid missionary among the gentiles who gives life to new Christian communities, but also the suffering witness of the Risen One (see Acts 9: 15-16).

The arrival of the Apostle in Jerusalem, described in chapter 21 of the Acts, unleashes ferocious hatred towards him, and he was reproached: “But he was a persecutor! Do not trust him!”. As it was for Jesus, Jerusalem is also a hostile city for him. He went to the temple, was recognized, was taken out to be lynched, and was saved in extremis by the Roman soldiers. Accused of teaching against the Law and the Temple, he was arrested and began his peregrination as a prisoner, first before the Sanhedrin, then before the Roman procurator in Caesarea, and finally before King Agrippa. Luke highlights the similarity between Paul and Jesus, both hated by their adversaries, publicly accused and recognized as innocent by the imperial authorities; and so Paul is associated with the passion of his Master, and his passion becomes a living gospel.

I come from Saint Peter’s Basilica, and there I had my first audience this morning with Ukrainian pilgrims from a Ukrainian diocese. How persecuted these people were; how much they have suffered for the Gospel! But they did not negotiate their faith. They are example.

Today in the world, in Europe, many Christians are persecuted and give their lives for their faith, or are persecuted “with white gloves”, that is, set aside, marginalized… Martyrdom is the air of the life of a Christian, of a Christian community.

There will always be martyrs among us: this is the sign that we are going on the way of Jesus. It is a blessing from the Lord, that there may be in the people of God, someone or someone who gives this witness of martyrdom.

Paul is called to defend himself against accusations, and in the end, in the presence of King Agrippa II, his apology turns into an effective witness of faith (cf. Acts 26: 1-23).

Then Paul recounts his own conversion: the Risen Christ made him a Christian and entrusted him with the mission among the nations, “that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26: 18). Paul obeyed this role and did none other than demonstrate how the prophets and Moses foretold what he now announces: that “Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” (v. 23). Paul’s passionate witness touches the heart of King Agrippa, who is lacking only the decisive step. And so the King says: “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (v. 28). Paul was declared innocent, but could not be released because he appealed to Caesar. Thus continues the unstoppable journey of the Word of God to Rome. Paul, chained up, will end up here in Rome. Paul, in chains, will end up here in Rome.

From this moment on, the portrait of Paul is that of the prisoner whose chains are the sign of his fidelity to the Gospel and of the testimony he gave to the Risen One.

The chains are certainly a humiliating trial for the Apostle, who appears to the world as an “criminal” (2 Tim 2:9). But his love for Christ is so strong that even these chains are interpreted with the eyes of faith; faith that for Paul is not “a theory, an opinion about God and the world”, but “the impact of God’s love in his heart […] was love for Jesus Christ” (Benedict XVI, Homily on the occasion of the Pauline Year, 28 June 2008).

Dear brothers and sisters, Paul teaches us perseverance in trial and the ability to read everything with the eyes of faith. Today let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of the Apostle, to revive our faith and help us to be faithful to the end of our vocation as Christians, as disciples of the Lord, as missionaries.

Greeting in English

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s audience, especially the groups from the United States of America. I pray that each of you, and your families, may experience a blessed Advent, in preparation for the coming of the newborn Saviour at Christmas. May God bless you!

Greetings in various languages

In his greetings in Italian to the young, the elderly, the sick and newly-weds, the Pope recalled that next Friday will be the liturgical memorial of Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr. “I wish that the light of the Baby Jesus, already on the horizon, may invade all your lives with His blessing”.

(Source: Vatican Press Office)

Go deeper

This morning, before the general audience, the Holy Father Francis received in audience, at the Altar of the Cathedra of the Vatican Basilica, the participants in the pilgrimage of the eparchy of Mukachevo of Byzantine Rite, Ukraine, on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the emergence of the eparchy of Mukachevo from hiding.

The following are the Pope’s words of greeting to those present:

Greeting of the Holy Father to participants in the Pilgrimage of the Eparchy of Mukachevo of Byzantine Rite, Ukraine

Dear brother bishops, dear priests, men and women religious, dear brothers and sisters.

You have come to Rome to celebrate together with the Successor of Peter the thirtieth anniversary of the emergence of the eparchy of Mukachevo from hiding.

I am happy to welcome you to the tomb of Saint Peter, and together with you I wish to thank the infinitely good Lord who with His powerful hand freed your Church from the long oppression of the Soviet regime.

The Church of Mukachevo is the mother of many martyrs, who with their own blood confirmed their fidelity to Christ, to the Catholic Church and to the Bishop of Rome.

In particular, let us remember the Blessed Martyr Bishop Teodor Romža, who in the darkest moments of your history was able to guide God’s people with evangelical wisdom and courage; a tireless man, following the example of Christ the Good Shepherd, to the point of giving his life for his flock.

I also wish to remember your ancestors, grandparents and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, who in the intimacy of their homes, and often under the watchful eye of the hostile regime, risking their freedom and their lives, transmitted the teaching of the truth of Christ and offered to future generations, of whom you are representatives, an eloquent witness of firm faith, of living faith, of Catholic faith.

I thank you from my heart, dear brothers and sisters, for your fidelity to Jesus Christ, and I invite each of you, “everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting Him encounter [you]; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly every day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no-one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 3).

On this solemn occasion I pray the Lord to protect the eparchy of Mukachevo from the pitfalls of evil and to bestow every prosperity upon it.

As we approach the Christmas holidays, entrusting your pastors and all of you, dear faithful, to the protection of the Blessed Virgin of Mukachevo, I wish you a Holy Christmas: may the Son of God be born in your hearts!

Convey my cordial greetings to all your loved ones, especially to children and to the sick and suffering. And please, do not forget to pray for me. God bless you all!

(Source: Vatican Press Office)

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