Here below is the full text of Pope Francis’ weekly general audience catechesis, delivered in St. Peter’s Square, September 17th.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
When we profess our faith, we affirm that the Church is “Catholic” and “Apostolic.” But what, effectively, is the meaning of these two words, these well known characteristic of the Church? And what value do they have for the Christian community and for each one of us?
1. Catholic means universal. A complete and clear definition is given us by one of the Fathers of the Church, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, when he states: “Without a doubt, the Church is said to be Catholic, that is, universal, because of the fact that she is spread everywhere from one end to the other of the earth; and because universally and without defection she teaches all the truths that must come to the knowledge of men, be it in regard to heavenly or earthly things” (18th Catechesis, 23).
A clear sign of the Church’s catholicity is that she speaks in all languages. And this is nothing other than the effect of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:1-13). It is the Holy Spirit, in fact, who has enabled the Apostles and the entire Church to resonate with all, to the ends of the earth, the Good News of salvation and of the love of God. The Church was born Catholic, “symphonic” from her origins, and cannot but be Catholic, pointing to evangelization and the encounter with all. The Word of God today is read in all languages, everyone has the Gospel in their own language to read. And I say again: it’s always good to take with you a small Gospel, to have in your pocket or purse and read a passage during the day. This is good for us. The Gospel has spread in all languages because the Church, the proclamation of Jesus Christ the Redeemer, is in all the world. And for this reason we say the Church is Catholic because it is universal.
2. If the Church was born Catholic, it means that she was born “outgoing,” missionary. If the apostles stayed in the Upper Room, without going out to pray the Gospel, the Church would just be the Church of those people, of that city, of that cenacle. But all have gone out into the world, from the moment of the Church’s birth, from the moment the Holy Spirit came down. And so the Church has been born “outgoing”, that is, missionary. It is what we express qualifying her as Apostolic. This term reminds us that the Church – on the foundation of the Apostles and in continuity with them – is invited to take to all men the proclamation of the Gospel, accompanying it with the signs of the tenderness and the power of God. This also stems from the Pentecost event: it is for the Holy Spirit, in fact, to surmount every resistance, to overcome the temptation to be closed-in on oneself, among a few elect, and considering oneself the sole recipients of God’s blessing… If a group of Christians does this – “We are the elect, only us” – they die in the end. They die before, in their soul, then their body dies, because they don’t have life, they don’t have the capacity to generate life to other people, other peoples. They are not apostolic. It is the Spirit that leads us to encounter our brothers, including those most distant in every sense, so that they can share with us the love, peace, and joy that the Risen Lord has left us as a gift.
3. What is entailed, for our communities and for each one of us, in being part of a Church that is Catholic and Apostolic? First of all, it means taking to heart the salvation of the whole of humanity, not feeling indifferent or strangers in face of the fate of so many of our brothers, but open and in solidarity with them. Moreover, it means having the sense of the fullness, the completeness and the harmony of Christian life, rejecting always partial, unilateral positions that shut us in on ourselves.
To be part of the Apostolic Church means to be aware that our faith is anchored in the proclamation and witness of Jesus’ Apostles themselves and, therefore, always to feel sent, in communion with the successors of the Apostles, to proclaim, with a heart full of joy, Christ and His love for the whole of humanity.
And here I would like to remember the heroic lives of many, many missionaries that have left their homeland to go and preach the Gospel in other countries, in other continents. A Brazilian cardinal who worked in the Amazon once told me that when he goes to a place, to a city in the Amazonian area, he always goes to the cemetery to see the tombs of those missionaries, priests, brothers, sisters that have gone to preach the Gospel, apostles. And he thinks: all these could be canonized now, they who have left all to proclaim Jesus Christ. Let us give thanks to the Lord because our Church has many missionaries, has had many missionaries, and needs yet more! We thank you Lord for this. Perhaps among many young people, boys and girls who are here, someone has the desire to become a missionary: go ahead! It’s a beautiful thing to bring the Gospel of Jesus. Be brave and courageous!
Let us ask the Lord now to renew in us the gift of His Spirit, so that every Christian community and every baptized person is an expression of Holy Mother Church, Catholic and Apostolic.
In words to Arabic speaking pilgrims, the Pope said: “The Church is catholic and apostolic because she opens her arms to all men; firmly and freely announces the Good News without coercion or duress; and calls all to faith in the Son of God made man, with love, with tenderness and patience! O children of the Holy Land, from where the light of the announcement went out to the ends of the earth, always be, despite the difficulties, courageous and joyful bearers of the message of salvation, of the truth and of blessing. The Lord bless you and protect you always.”
[Translation by ZENIT]