Pope: Apocalypse, a comfort for Christians persecuted in Asia and rest of the world

Explaining the symbolism in this book of the evangelist John, Benedict XVI underlined the Christian paradox of the victory of Christ, the Woman and the Church over suffering and persecution. Pilgrims from Taiwan and Japan were present at the audience.


Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Suffering is not "the last word" in the history of the world and the Church, but a "point of passage towards happiness and, even it [suffering] is already mysteriously soaked" with "joy" and "hope": Benedict XVI spoke these words to more than 7,000 pilgrims gathered in Paul VI Hall for the weekly audience, explaining the highlights of the book of the Apocalypse of St John, often moving away from his prepared speech to add impromptu comments.

The pope said that contrary to usual interpretation, the Apocalypse was not about an "overhanging catastrophe" or "enigmas to be resolved". Rather it told about the persecutions suffered by Christians throughout history, aiming to instill the certainty of a "victory of the Lamb, slaughtered and yet standing upright", becoming a comfort for Christians, especially those of Asia. The reference to Asia and persecution against Christians is above all literary: the Apocalypse, said the pontiff, "should be understood in the background of the dramatic experiences of the seven Churches of Asia (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea) that at the end of the first century had to face heavy difficulties in their witness to Christ. John turned to them, showing animated pastoral sensitivity towards the persecuted Christians, who he exhorted to remain strong in the faith and not to identify with the pagan world." But speaking then about the one of the symbols of the Apocalypse (the scroll no one could open that drove the apostle to tears, Apoc.5:4), he adds: "Probably this cry expressed the bewilderment of the Asian churches about the silence of God in the face of persecutions they were subject to then. It is a bewilderment that could well reflect our dismay in the face of serious difficulties, misunderstandings and hostilities that the Church still suffers today in several parts of the world. They are sufferings the Church certainly does not deserve, just as Jesus himself did not merit his torment."

Speaking off the cuff, the pope continued: The "meaning of the history of mankind", "the destiny of history" is in the hands of Jesus Christ, who the Apocalypse reveals as the "slaughtered Lamb, defenceless, wounded, dead, but upright, alive, participating in the divine power of the Father". "Jesus, although he was killed by an act of violence, instead of collapsing to the ground, paradoxically remains firmly on his feet, because the resurrection has definitely won over death".

 

The meaning of victory over persecution was affirmed by Benedict XVI when he explained the symbol of the "Woman who delivers a male Son, and the complementary one of the Dragon who has by now fallen from the heavens. Although active in the persecution of the Woman and her other children, he has now been overcome at the core and his ultimate defeat will be unmistakably manifested." Here too, the pope talked off the cuff for a while, explaining that the Woman is Mary, but also the church "that gives birth with great suffering in every age, defenceless, weak. While she is persecuted by the Dragon, she is protected by the consolations of God. It is this woman who triumphs in the end, not the dragon." The pope continued spontaneously: "The Woman who is persecuted appears at the end like a Bride, the new Jerusalem, where there are no more tears and everything is light, because her light is the Lamb."

"For this reason," continued Benedict XVI, "the Apocalypse of John, although it is pervaded by continual references to suffering and tribulations – the obscure face of reality – is just as much permeated by frequent hymns of praise that sort of represent the luminous face of history... We are faced here with a typical Christian paradox, according to which suffering is never perceived as the last word, but is rather seen as a point of passage towards happiness, and even it [suffering] is already mysteriously soaked with joy that springs from hope."

The pope ended his reflection by explaining the last words with which "the Seer of Patmos" concludes his book, the invocation, "Come Lord Jesus", "pulsing with anxious expectation". Here too, the pope added a reflection on impulse, saying that this waiting had three dimensions: that of the "definitive victory of the Lord who comes and transforms the world"; the "Eucharistic, of now, in which He anticipates his final coming"; the eschatological, in which the Church says: You have already come, it is a joy for us, but come fully." And nearly as if to express the impatience of this wait, Benedict XVI ended with a prayer: "Come Lord Jesus, come and transform the world, and may your Peace triumph. Amen."

At the end of the audience, the pope greeted all the pilgrims in different languages. Speaking in English, he greeted a group of priests from Taiwan and members of St Mary's Hospital of Luodong (Taiwan) as well as youth from Nanzan University of Nagoya (Japan).

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