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"He who, without knowing him, you adore, I announce it to you" (Acts 17, 23). Paul to the Areopagus: an example of inculturation of the faith in Athens

Catechesis by Pope Francis on the Acts of the Apostles (15)
General Audience, Wednesday 6 November 2019 - also in Arabic, Croatian, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good Morning!
Let us continue our “journey” with the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. After the trials experienced in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, Paul arrived in Athens, the very heart of Greece (cf. Acts 17:15). This city that lived in the shadow of its ancient glory despite its political decline, still held the primacy of culture. Here the Apostle’s “spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). However rather than avoid this “collision” with paganism it spurs him to create a bridge to converse with that culture.

Paul chooses to acquaint himself with the city and he thus began to visit its most important sites and people. He goes to the synagogue, the symbol of the life of the faith; he goes to the square, the symbol of city life; and he goes to the Areopagus, the symbol of political and cultural life. He meets Jews, philosophers, Epicureans, Stoics and many others. He meets all the people. He does not withdraw. He goes to speak to all the people. In this way, Paul observes the culture and he observes the environment of Athens “with a contemplative gaze” that discovers “God dwelling in their homes, in their streets and squares” (Evangelii Gaudium, 71). Paul does not look at the city of Athens and the pagan world with hostility, but rather with the eyes of faith. And this makes us question ourselves about the way we look at our cities: do we observe them with indifference? With disdain? Or with a faith that recognizes God’s children in the midst of anonymous crowds.

Paul chooses the gaze that spurs him to create an opening between the Gospel and the pagan world. In the heart of one of the most celebrated institutions in the ancient world, the Areopagus, he achieves an extraordinary example of inculturation of the message of faith: he proclaims Jesus Christ to the idol worshippers, and he does not do so by attacking them, but by making himself “a Pope, a builder of bridges” (Homily at Sanctae Marthae, 8 May 2013).

Paul is inspired by the altar of the city dedicated to “an unknown god” (Acts 17:23) — there was an altar with the inscription “to an unknown god”; no image, nothing, only that inscription. Starting from their “worship” of an unknown god, so as to empathize with his listeners, he proclaims that God “dwells among them” (Evangelii Gaudium, 71) and “does not hide himself from those who seek him with a sincere heart, even though they do so tentatively” (ibid). It is precisely this presence that Paul tries to unveil: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23).

In order to reveal the identity of the god that the Athenians adore, the Apostle begins from Creation, that is from biblical faith in the God of revelation, in order to reach salvation and judgement, that is, the true Christian message. He shows the disproportion between the greatness of the Creator and the temples built by man, and explains that the Creator always makes himself sought, in such a way that each one can find him. In this way, according to a beautiful expression Pope Benedict XVI used, Paul “is proclaiming him whom men do not know and yet do know – the unknown-known” (Benedict XVI, Meeting with representatives from the world of culture at the Collège des Bernardins, Paris, 12 September 2008). He then invites everyone to go beyond the “times of ignorance” and to choose conversion in view of the imminent judgment. Paul thus arrives at kerygma and alludes to Christ without naming him, defining him as the “man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

And herein lies the problem. Paul’s word, which had kept the speakers in suspense — because it was an interesting discovery —, meets a stumbling block: the death and Resurrection of Christ appears to be “folly” (1 Cor 1:23) and raises scorn and derision. Paul then distances himself: his attempt appears to have failed; instead some accept his word and open themselves to the faith. Among them is a man, Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, and a woman, Damaris. The Gospel takes root even in Athens, and can then proceed with two voices: that of men and that of women!

Today, let us ask the Holy Spirit to teach us to build bridges through culture, with those who do not believe and those who have a different belief from ours. Always building bridges, always with outstretched hand, no aggression. Let us ask him for the ability to inculturate the message of faith with sensitivity, to have a contemplative gaze towards those who do not know Christ, to be moved by love that warms even the hardest of hearts."


"Je salue cordialement les personnes de langue française, en particulier les jeunes du diocèse de Paris. Frères et sœurs, demandons à l’Esprit Saint de nous apprendre à construire des ponts avec ceux qui ne croient pas. Que nous sachions toujours leur témoigner de notre foi, en portant sur eux un regard d’amour qui touche même les cœurs les plus endurcis. Que Dieu vous bénisse !

[Saluto cordialmente i pellegrini francofoni, in particolare i giovani della Diocesi di Parigi. Fratelli e sorelle, chiedete allo Spirito Santo di insegnarvi a costruire ponti con coloro che non credono. Possiate sapere sempre come testimoniare loro la nostra fede, volgendo su di essi uno sguardo d'amore che tocca anche i cuori più induriti. Dio vi benedica!]

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, especially those from England, Scotland, Malta, Zimbabwe, India, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, the Philippines and the United States of America. Upon all of youI invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!

[Do il benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua inglese presenti all’Udienza odierna, specialmente a quelli provenienti da Inghilterra, Scozia, Malta, Zimbabwe, India, Indonesia, Israele, Malesia, Filippine e Stati Uniti d’America. Su tutti invoco la gioia e la pace del Signore Gesù Cristo. Dio vi benedica!]

Von Herzen grüße ich die Pilger deutscher Sprache. Der Heilige Geist lasse euch beständig in der Erkenntnis Gottes wachsen, so dass ihr seine Liebe und seine Wahrheit in der Welt verbreiten könnt.

[Saluto di cuore i pellegrini di lingua tedesca. Lo Spirito Santo vi faccia crescere costantemente nella conoscenza di Dio in modo che possiate diffondere il suo amore e la sua verità nel mondo.]

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, venidos de España y Latinoamérica. Pidamos hoy al Espíritu Santo de enseñarnos a construir puentes con quienes no creen o tienen otra fe distinta a la nuestra. Pidamos la capacidad de inculturar con delicadeza el mensaje de la fe. Que el fuego de su amor que es capaz de inflamar el corazón más endurecido abra los ojos de los que todavía no conocen a Cristo. Que el Señor los bendiga.

Dirijo uma saudação cordial aos peregrinos de língua portuguesa, especialmente os membros daAssociação de Imprensa de Inspiração Cristã, de Portugal, e os fiéis brasileiros de Niterói. Queridos amigos, neste mês de novembro, somos convidados a rezar pelos defuntos. Guiados pela fé na comunhão dos Santos, procurai encomendar a Deus, sobretudo na Eucaristia, os vossos familiares, amigos e conhecidos falecidos, sentindo a proximidade deles na grande companhia espiritual da Igreja. Que Deus vos abençoe a todos!

[Rivolgo un cordiale saluto ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese, in particolare ai membri dell’Associação de Imprensa de Inspiração Cristã, di Portogallo, e ai fedeli brasiliani di Niterói. Cari amici, in questo mese di novembre, siamo invitati a pregare per i defunti. Guidati dalla fede nella comunione dei Santi, cercate di affidare a Dio, specialmente nell’Eucaristia, i vostri familiari, amici e conoscenti deceduti, sentendoli vicini nella grande compagnia spirituale della Chiesa. Dio vi benedica a tutti!]

أُرحّبُ بالحجّاجِ الناطقينَ باللغةِ العربية، وخاصةً بالقادمين من الشرق الأوسط. أيها الإخوةُ والأخواتُ الأعزاء، إزاء العديد من معاناة عصرنا، لنطلب من الرب أن يجعل منا بناةَ جسور، وأن يفتح قلوبَنا على احتياجات المعوزين، والعُزّل، والفقراء، والعاطلين عن العمل، وأولئك الذين يقرعون بابنا بحثًا عن الخبز والملجأ والاعتراف بكرامتهم. ليبارككُم الرّبّ!

[Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua araba, in particolare a quelli provenienti dal Medio Oriente! Cari fratelli e sorelle, davanti alle tante sofferenze del nostro tempo, chiediamo al Signore di fare di noi dei costruttori di ponti, e di aprire i nostri cuori alle necessità dei bisognosi, degli indifesi, dei poveri, dei disoccupati, e di chi bussa alla nostra porta in cerca di pane, di un rifugio e del riconoscimento della sua dignità. Il Signore vi benedica!]

Serdecznie pozdrawiam polskich pielgrzymów. Drodzy bracia i siostry, w najbliższą niedzielę Kościół w Polsce będzie obchodził XI Dzień Solidarności z Kościołem Prześladowanym, organizowany przez Stowarzyszenie „Pomoc Kościołowi w Potrzebie” i Konferencję Episkopatu Polski. W tym roku pomoc duchowa i materialna w sposób szczególny jest kierowana do chrześcijan w Sudanie Południowym. Wasza modlitwa i konkretne dzieło solidarności niech przynosi wytchnienie i wsparcie braciom i siostrom, którzy cierpią dla Chrystusa w różnych częściach świata. Z serca wam błogosławię!

[Saluto cordialmente i pellegrini polacchi. Cari fratelli e sorelle, domenica prossima la Chiesa in Polonia celebra l’XIa Giornata di Solidarietà con la Chiesa Perseguitata, organizzata dalla Fondazione Papale “L’Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre”, assieme alla Conferenza Episcopale Polacca. Quest'anno il soccorso spirituale e materiale è rivolto in particolare ai cristiani del Sud Sudan. La vostra preghiera e le opere concrete di solidarietà portino sollievo ed aiuto ai fratelli e alle sorelle che soffrono per Cristo in diverse parti del mondo. Vi benedico di cuore!]

* * *

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. Saluto le Domenicane dell’Immacolata Concezione; le Apostole del Sacro Cuore di Gesù e i gruppi parrocchiali, specialmente quelli di Andria e di San Ferdinando di Puglia.

Inoltre saluto il Gruppo sportivo difesa Grande Termoli; e le Scuole primarie di Rimini e di Riccione.

Saluto infine i giovani, gli anziani, gli ammalati e gli sposi novelli.

Il mese di novembre, dedicato alla memoria e alla preghiera dei defunti, sia per tutti l’occasione per riconsiderare il significato dell’esistenza umana e della vita eterna. Questo tempo sia un incoraggiamento a comprendere che la vita ha un grande valore se vissuta come dono, non soltanto a se stesso, ma a Dio ed al prossimo."