VATICAN CITY — During his General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis held up the figure of St Paul as a model for Christians saying suffering, persecution and martyrdom are a sign that they are walking in the footsteps of the Lord.
Even today Christians are being persecuted and marginalised, Pope Francis said in his catechesis, adding, it is a blessing to be a witness of martyrdom.
The Pope reflected on the “seal of suffering” that increasingly marked the life of St Paul as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. The intrepid missionary is not only an ardent evangeliser among the pagans but he is also the suffering witness of the Risen One.
Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Paul is met with “ferocious hatred” with people saying he was a persecutor who is not to be trusted. As it was for Jesus, Jerusalem also becomes hostile to Paul. He was led out of the temple to be lynched but was saved by the Roman soldiers. Accused of teaching against the law and the temple, he was arrested and began his journey as a prisoner to various authorities of the region.
The Pope drew attention to similarities between Paul and Jesus. Both were hated by their adversaries; accused publicly, both were found innocent by the Roman authority; Paul is associated with the passion of his Master and his passion becomes a living Gospel.
The Pope noted that Christians continue to suffer for the sake of Christ even today. Just before the General Audience, he said, he met a group of Ukrainian pilgrims, who suffered for the Gospel without negotiating their faith.
“Today in the world, in Europe,” the Pope pointed out, “many Christians are persecuted and they give their lives for their faith, or are persecuted with white gloves, that is, left aside, marginalised.” “Martyrdom,” he stressed, “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 on the path of Jesus.” “It is a blessing from the Lord, that among the people of God, there be some witness of martyrdom,” the Pope said.
Called to defend himself against accusations in the presence of King Agrippa II, the Pope explained, Paul’s apology turns out to be an effective witness of faith, the Pope said.
Paul narrated his own conversion and how the Risen Christ entrusted him with the mission among the nations. In carrying out this task, the apostle showed how the prophets and Moses foretold that Christ should suffer and that, “as the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles”. Paul’s passionate witness touched the heart of the King, who lacking the decisive step, replied, “You will soon persuade me to play the Christian.”
Paul was declared innocent, but could not be released because he had appealed to the Roman Emperor. Thus, the Pope said, the unstoppable journey of the Word of God continued to Rome, where Paul ended up in chains.
Pope Francis noted that because of this, Paul is portrayed as a prisoner whose chains are the sign of his fidelity to the Gospel and his testimony to the Risen One. For Paul, as Pope Benedict XVI noted, faith is not a theory or an opinion on God and the world but is the impact of God’s love in his heart and his love for Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis concluded, urging Christians to pray for the grace to persevere in their faith amid trials, seeing everything with the eyes of faith and being faithful to their vocation as disciples and missionaries of the Lord.