Vatican City (AsiaNews) - To religious persecution, "we must respond as Jesus did in his passion, [using] love and the power of truth" against misunderstanding and adversity, said Pope Francis in his address to the faithful as he reflected before the recitation of the Regina Caeli on the passages of the Acts of the Apostles in the liturgy of the third Sunday of Easter. "Where did the first disciples find the strength to bear witness, despite obstacles and violence? It is obvious, he said, "that only the presence alongside them of the Risen Lord and the action of the Holy Spirit can explain this."
In St Peter's Square, overflowing with the faithful, the Pope, speaking before the Marian prayer, said, "I would like to reflect briefly on the passage from the Acts of the Apostles that we read in the liturgy of this Third Sunday of Easter. This text says that the first sermon by the Apostles in Jerusalem filled the city with the news that Jesus had truly risen, according to the Scriptures, and he was the Messiah foretold by the Prophets. The chief priests and the rulers of the city tried to nip in the bud the community of believers in Christ and put the Apostles in prison, ordering them not to teach in his name."
However, Peter and the other Eleven replied, "We must obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus, [. . .] exalted him at his right hand as leader and saviour [. . .]. We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:29-32). So they had the Apostles whipped and ordered them not to speak again in the name of Jesus. And they went forth, and as the Scripture says, "rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name" of Jesus.
Pope Francis went on to say, "I ask myself: Where did the first disciples find the strength to bear witness? Plus, where did the joy and courage for the proclamation come from, despite the obstacles and violence? Let us not forget that the Apostles were simple men. They were not scribes, nor teachers of the law or members of the priestly class. How did they, with their limits and opposed by the authorities, fill Jerusalem with their teaching (cf Acts, 5:28)?"
It is obvious, the pope quickly added, "that only the presence alongside them of the Risen Lord and the Holy Spirit can explain this. The Lord, who was with them, and the spirit that moved them to preach, pushed them towards this extraordinary event. Their faith was based on an experience of the crucified and risen Christ that was so powerful and personal that they were not afraid of anything or anyone, so that for them persecution was a badge of honour, which enabled them to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and be like Him, bearing witness to Him with their lives. "
The pontiff also stressed that the "history of the first Christian community tells us something very important, which applies to the Church of all the ages, even to us. When a person truly knows Jesus Christ and believes in Him, experiences His presence in life and the power of His resurrection, he cannot fail to communicate this experience. If he encounters misunderstanding or adversity, he should behave like Jesus did in His Passion: respond with love and the power of truth."
Praying together the Regina Caeli, he said, "We ask for the help of the Holiest Mary so that the Church around the world may proclaim with frankness and courage the Resurrection of the Lord and bear effective witness to it through signs of brotherly love. Brotherly love is the closest witness we can give that Jesus is alive among us, that he is risen. Let us pray, especially for Christians who suffer persecution. In these times, there are many Christians who suffer persecution, a great many, in many countries! Let us pray for them with love from our hearts, that they may they feel the living and comforting presence of the Risen Lord!" Next, the pope stopped and made the sign of the cross. This was followed by the recitation of the Regina Caeli and the blessing.
Right after the prayer to Mary, the pope mentioned yesterday's beatification in Venice, of Fr Luca Passi, founder of the Opera laicale Santa Dorotea and the Istituto delle Suore Maestre di Santa Dorotea. "We give thanks to God for the witness of this blessed."
Afterwards, the pope spoke of the Day of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, which is celebrated today in Italy. Its theme is 'The new generations beyond the crisis'.
"The university," the pope said, "was born from the mind and heart of Father Agostino Gemelli. With broad popular support, it has trained thousands upon thousands of young people to be competent and responsible citizens, builders of the common good. I call upon everyone to always support this University, that it may continue to provide an excellent education to younger generations, and meet the challenges of the present age. "
Finally, the pope delivered the traditional greetings. "I greet all the pilgrims present, who come from many countries, [as well as] the families, church groups, movements, young people. In particular, I greet the pilgrims from the Diocese of Siena-Colle di Val d'Elsa-Montalcino, with Archbishop Buoncristiani. A special thought also for the boys and girls who are getting ready for their confirmation. To all of you I wish a good Sunday and a good lunch."