* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning.
Today, in Paul VI Hall, there is another group of pilgrims connected with us; they are the sick pilgrims, because with this weather, between the heat and the possibility of rain, it was more prudent that they should stay there. However, they are connected with us through a video-screen. Thus we are united in the same Audience. And all of us will pray today especially for them, for their sicknesses. Thank you.
In the first catechesis on the Church last Wednesday, we began with God’s initiative to form a people who will carry his blessing to all the peoples on earth. He began with Abraham and then, with much patience – and God has, He has so much patience! -- He prepares the people in the Old Covenant so that, in Jesus Christ, they are a sign and instrument of the union of men with God and among themselves (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Lumen Gentium, 1). Today we wish to pause on the importance, for the Christian, of belonging to this people. We shall talk about belonging to the Church.
We are not isolated and we are not Christians as individuals, each one on his own. No. Our Christian identity is belonging! We are Christians because we belong to the Church. It is like a surname: if the name is “I am Christian,” the surname is “I belong to the Church.” It is beautiful to note how this belonging is expressed also in the name that God attributes to Himself. Responding to Moses, in the wonderful episode of the “burning bush” (cf. Exodus 3:15), He describes Himself, in fact, as the God of the Fathers. He does not say: I am Omnipotent …, no: I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. In this way, he calls us to enter into this relation that precedes us. God’s relation with His people precedes us all, it comes from that time.
In this connection, our thought goes with gratitude, in the first place, to those who have preceded us and who have received us in the Church. No one becomes a Christian on his own! Is this clear? No one becomes a Christian on his own. Christians are not made in a laboratory. A Christian is part of a people who come from afar. The Christian belongs to a people called Church, and this Church makes him a Christian on the day of Baptism, and then in the course of the catechesis, and so on. However, no one, no one becomes a Christian on his own. If we believe, if we are able to pray, if we know the Lord and can listen to His Word, if we feel Him close and recognize him in the brethren, it is because others, before us, lived the faith and then transmitted it. We have received the faith from our parents, from our forbearers, and they have taught it to us. If we think well, perhaps how many dear ones pass before our eyes at this moment: it might be the face of our parents who asked for Baptism for us; that of our grandparents or of some relatives who taught us to make the sign of the cross and to recite our first prayers. I always remember the face of the Sister who taught me the catechism, it always comes to my mind – she is in Heaven, I’m sure, because she was a holy woman – but I remember her always and I thank God for this Sister. Or the face of the parish priest, of another priest, of a Sister, of a catechist who transmitted to us the content of the faith and made us grow as Christians … See, this is the Church: a great family, in which we are received and learn to live as believers and disciples of the Lord Jesus.
We can live this journey not only thanks to other persons but together with other persons. “Do it yourself” does not exist in the Church; “free builders” do not exist. How many times Pope Benedict described the Church as an ecclesial “we”! How many times have we heard this? And this is not on. There are those who think they can have a personal, direct, immediate relation with Jesus Christ outside the communion and mediation of the Church. These are dangerous and harmful temptations. They are, as the great Paul VI said, absurd dichotomies. It is true that to walk together is demanding, and sometimes it can be exhausting: it can happen that a brother or a sister causes one a problem, or gives scandal … But the Lord entrusted his message of salvation to human persons, to all of us, to witnesses; and it is in our brothers and our sisters, with their gifts and limitations, that He comes to meet us and makes us recognize Him. And this means to belong to the Church. Remember this well: to be a Christian means to belong to the Church. The name is “Christian,” and the surname is “belonging to the Church.”
Dear friends, let us ask the Lord, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, for the grace not to fall into the temptation of thinking that we can do without others, that we can do without the Church, that we can save ourselves on our own, that we are laboratory Christians. On the contrary, we cannot love God without loving our brothers, we cannot love God outside the Church; we cannot be in communion with God without being so in the Church, and we cannot be good Christians without being together with those who seek to follow the Lord Jesus, as one people, one body, and this is the Church. Thank you.
[Original text: Italian]
[Translation by ZENIT]
SUMMARY OF THE CATECHESIS AND GREETING IN ENGLISH
Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the Church, we have seen that God gathered a people to himself in the Old Testament and in the fullness of time sent his Son to establish the Church as the sacrament of unity for all humanity. God calls each of us to belong to this great family. None of us become Christians on our own; we owe our relationship with God to so many others who passed on the faith, who brought us for Baptism, who taught us to pray and showed us the beauty of the Christian life: our parents and grandparents, our priests, religious and teachers. But we are Christians not only because of others, but together with others. Our relationship with Christ is personal but not private; it is born of, and enriched by, the communion of the Church. Our shared pilgrimage is not always easy: at times we encounter human weakness, limitations and even scandal in the life of the Church. Yet God has called us to know him and to love him precisely by loving our brothers and sisters, by persevering in the fellowship of the Church and by seeking in all things to grow in faith and holiness as members of the one body of Christ.
[Original text: English]
I offer a cordial greeting to the delegation of Bethlehem University, which this year celebrates the fortieth anniversary of its establishment, with appreciation for its praiseworthy educational apostolate among the Palestinian people. I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including those from England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Greece, Australia, Taiwan, Vietnam, India, the Antilles and the United States. Upon all of you, and upon your families, I invoke joy and peace in the Lord Jesus.
[Original text: English]
GREETING IN ITALIAN
I give a cordial welcome to the Italian speaking pilgrims: parishes, associations and various groups. In particular, I greet the Missionary Sisters of the Catechism, celebrating the 75thanniversary of their foundation; the priests of Chieti-Vasto and of Aquila, observing 60 years of priesthood, the seminarians of Catania and Caltagirone: I hope that each one of you will spread with enthusiasm the joy of the Gospel. I greet the exponents of the Carmelite Ecclesial Movement, exhorting them to witness everywhere that the Christian faith responds fully to the profound hopes and expectations of man. I greet the faithful of the parishes of the Transfiguration and of Saint Augustine in Altamura, of Saint Benedict in Caserta and of Saint Mary Major in Mazzarino: I encourage all to feel the Christian community increasingly as the privileged place of evangelization, of spiritual formation and of education to charity. I greet the representatives of the International Diplomatic Observatory of Capurso, and the “Life for Life” sports group, whom I invite to continue in their respective endeavors, spreading serenity and solidarity everywhere.
Finally, I greet young people, the sick and newlyweds. Still alive is the echo of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, which we celebrated recently. Dear young people, always find in the Eucharist the nourishment of your spiritual life. You, dear sick – especially you who are connected with us from Paul VI Hall – offer your suffering and your prayer to the Lord, that He will continue to extend his love in men’s hearts. And you, dear newlyweds, approach the Eucharist with renewed faith, so that, nourished by Christ, you are families animated by concrete Christian witness.
[Original text: Italian]
[Translation by ZENIT]