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The birth of the Church

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
Castel Gondolfo, Wednesday 30 August 1989 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Church, which originated in Christ's redemptive death, was manifested to the world on Pentecost Day by the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the theme of today's catechesis, introduced by the previous one on the descent of the Holy Spirit, which gave rise to the new People of God. We have seen how, in reference to the old covenant between the Lord God and Israel as his "chosen" people, the people of the new covenant made "in Christ's blood" (cf. 1 Cor 11:25) are called in the Holy Spirit to holiness. It is the people consecrated through "the anointing of the Holy Spirit" in the sacrament of Baptism. It is the "royal priesthood" called to offer "spiritual gifts" (cf. 1 Pet 2:9).

By forming the people of the new covenant in this way, the Holy Spirit manifests the Church which flowed from the Redeemer's heart wounded on the cross.

2. In the Christological cycle of catecheses, we have already shown that Jesus Christ, by "transmitting to the apostles the kingdom received from the Father" (cf. Lk 22:2; Mk 4:11), laid the foundations for building his Church. He did not limit himself to attracting listeners and disciples by means of the words of the Gospel and the signs worked by him. He clearly stated that he wished "to build the Church" on the apostles, and in particular on Peter (cf. Mt 16:18). When the hour of his passion, the evening of the previous day, arrived, he prayed for their "consecration in the truth" (cf. Jn 17:17); he prayed for their unity: "That they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in that the world may believe that you have sent me" (cf. Jn 17:21-23). Finally, he gave his life "as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45), "to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (Jn 11:52).

3. The conciliar Constitution Lumen Gentium emphasizes the connection between the Paschal mystery and Pentecost: "When Jesus, who had suffered the death of the cross for mankind, had risen, he appeared as the one constituted as Lord, Christ and eternal Priest, and he poured out on his disciples the Spirit promised by the Father" (n. 5). This happened in accordance with what Jesus announced during the supper before his passion, and repeated before his final departure from this earth to return to the Father: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem...and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

This fact is culminating and decisive for the Church's existence. Christ announced and instituted her, and then finally "generated" her on the cross through his redemptive death. However, the Church's existence became evident on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended and the apostles began to "bear witness" to Christ's paschal mystery. We can speak of this event as a birth of the Church, as we speak of a person's birth at the moment when he comes forth from his mother's womb and "is manifested" to the world.

4. In the Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem I wrote: "The era of the Church began with the 'coming,' that is to say, with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem, together with Mary, the Lord's mother. The time of the Church began at the moment when the promises and predictions that so explicitly referred to the Counselor, the Spirit of truth, began to be fulfilled in complete power and clarity upon the apostles, thus determining the birth of the Church.... The Holy Spirit assumed the invisible—but in a certain way 'perceptible'—guidance of those who after the departure of the Lord Jesus felt deeply that they had been left orphans. With the coming of the Spirit they felt capable of fulfilling the mission entrusted to them. They felt full of strength. It is precisely this that the Spirit worked in them, and this is certainly at work in the Church, through their successors" (n. 25).

5. The birth of the Church is like a "new creation" (cf. Eph 2:15). We can make an analogy with the first creation, when "the Lord formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Gen 2:7). To this breath of life man owes the spirit which makes him a human person. We must refer back to this creative breath when we read that the risen Christ, appearing to the apostles assembled in the upper room, "breathed on them, and said to them: 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (Jn 20:22-23). This event, which took place the very evening of the Pasch, can be considered as a Pentecost in anticipation, not yet public. Then followed the day of Pentecost, the public manifestation of the gift of the Spirit. Jesus Christ, "exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the gift of the Holy Spirit, poured out this Spirit" (Acts 2:33). Therefore through the work of the Holy Spirit there has been "the new creation" (cf. Ps 104:30).

6. Besides the analogy with the Book of Genesis, we can find another in a passage from the Book of Ezekiel where we read: "Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live" (Ez 37:9). "Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your grave, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel" (Ez 37:12). "And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken" (Ez 37:14). "...and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet" (Ez 37:10).

This magnificent and penetrating prophetic vision concerns the messianic restoration of Israel after the exile, announced by God after the long period of suffering (cf. Ez 37:11-14). The same announcement of revival and new life was given by Hosea (cf. 6:2; 13; 14) and by Isaiah (26:19). Yet the symbolism used by the prophet gave Israel the desire for an individual resurrection, perhaps already foreseen by Job (cf. 19:25). As other passages show, this idea would develop gradually in the Old Testament (cf. Dan 12:2; 2 Macc 7:9-14; 23-36; 12:43-46) and in the New (Mt 22:29-32; 1 Cor 15). However, that idea prepared for the concept of the new life which would be revealed in Christ's resurrection and would come down on those who would believe, through the work of the Holy Spirit. We believers in Christ can also read a certain paschal analogy in the text of Ezekiel.

7. Here is a final aspect of the mystery of the Church's birth at Pentecost through the Spirit's action. In it Christ's priestly prayer in the upper room is realized: "that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21). Descending upon the apostles assembled with Mary, Christ's mother, the Holy Spirit transforms and unites them, "filling them" with the fullness of the divine life. They become "one," an apostolic community, ready to bear witness to the crucified and risen Christ. This is the new creation which flowed from the cross and was given life by the Holy Spirit, who gave it its historical beginning at Pentecost.


After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

J’accueille avec joie les personnes de langue française venues à cette audience.

EN PARTICULIER, j’adresse un salut cordial aux pèlerins d’Athènes. Chers Frères et Sœurs, catholiques et orthodoxes, soyez les bienvenus à Rome! Que votre séjour dans la Ville éternelle ravive votre foi et votre engagement au service de la communauté chrétienne!

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JE SUIS HEUREUX d’accueillir affectueusement le groupe de jeunes Libanais présents parmi nous. Tous, nous aimons leur pays; tous, nous espérons ardemment qu’il retrouvera la paix. A la fin de cette audience, comme de coutume, nous chanterons le “Notre Père”: aujourd’hui, nous le ferons ensemble en priant spécialement pour le Liban.

A vous tous, jeunes et adultes, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ad alcuni gruppi di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I WISH TO WELCOME the many married couples from England who are celebrating their Silver Wedding Anniversaries in Rome before undertaking an important apostolate to families in their country. May God bless you in your efforts to strengthen spouses, parents and children in their fidelity to Jesus Christ and his law of love. I am pleased to greet the pilgrim group from Belfast in Northern Ireland. My cordial greeting also goes to the Lutheran pilgrims from Struer in Denmark. To the pilgrims from the “ John Paul College ” in New Zealand, and to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

WERDEN WIR UNS liebe Brüder und Schwestern, der großen Gnade wieder neu bewußt, zur Kirche Jesu Christi gehören zu dürfen. Ich grüße euch alle sehr herzlich zur heutigen Audienz, alle Gruppen und Einzelpilger; besonders die anwesende Studiengruppe von Priestern und Schwestern, die dem Deutschorden angehören. Möge dieser Rombesuch in euch allen eure Liebe zur Kirche neu entfachen und euch zu einem entschlossenen Glaubenszeugnis im Alltag ermutigen. Von Herzen erteile ich euch und allen, die euch verbunden sind, meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli giunti dalla Spagna e da Paesi dell’America Latina

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

ME ES GRATO saludar a los sacerdotes, a los religiosos y religiosas, así como a los peregrinos de América Latina y España presentes en esta Audiencia. De modo particular mi saludo se dirige a los miembros del Patronato de Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Concepción de Zapopán, de Guadalajara; a los jóvenes de las Comunidades eclesiales mexicanas de Acapulco, Guerrero y Ciudad Altamirano; al Mariachi juvenil de la ciudad de Monterrey y a la peregrinación de la diócesis de Aguascalientes. Que vuestra presencia en Roma os impulse a caminar con mayor seguridad y confianza por la senda que lleva al Reino de la Vida; senda que supone un cumplimiento fiel de la Ley de Dios.

* * *

ME COMPLACE AHORA hacer presente mi más cordial felicitación al grupo de sacerdotes de la diócesis española de Cartagena, que este año cumplen el 25 aniversario de ordenación sacerdotal. Os agradezco vuestra presencia en este Encuentro. Y, como recuerdo de esta gozosa efemérides no sólo para vosotros sino también para la Iglesia, os aliento a seguir viviendo ilusionados, con la ayuda incomparable de la Virgen María - Madre de Cristo Sumo y Eterno Sacerdote -, los ideales de consagración a Dios y de servicio a vuestra Iglesia local cartagenera.

A vosotros, a vuestras familias, así como a todos los aquí presentes imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

SAÚDO OS que me ouvem, desejando-lhes todo o bem, com as graças divinas, na sua caminhada como novo Povo de Deus. Em particular, sejam bem-vindos os Brasileiros de Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro e Salvador: abençoando-vos, penso em vossos entes queridos. Que sejais felizes!

 Ad un gruppo di pellegrini ungheresi

VORREI SALUTARE due gruppi di pellegrini ungheresi provenienti dalla città di Szopron (Diocesi di Djör) e dalla parrocchia di Eerd-Ovaarosz (Diocesi di Seekeszfeheervaar).

Ai connazionali polacchi

WITAM SERDECZNIE Kardynała Metropolitę Krakowskiego; witam wszystkie grupy pielgrzymów: z parafii Korzkiew pod wezwaniem św. Jana Chrzciciela; z parafii bł. Królowej Jadwigi we Wrześni; z paraffi św. Katarzyny w Grybowie; z parafii. Świętej Trójcy w Radzyniu Podlaskim; z paraffi Matki Boskiej Częstochowskiejksięży pallotynów oraz służbę zdrowia Akademii Medycznej z Gdańska; pielgrzymkę, archeologów, architektów i konserwatorów z parafii św. Antoniego w Gdańsku; z parafii świętych apostołów Piotra i Pawła z Namysłowa; Pomocników Salezjańskich Kościoła z prowincji pilskiej; Chór Akademicki Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego; z parafii Wniebowstąpienia Pańskiego z Poznania; chór młodzieżowy “Rezonans con tutti” z Zabrza; prócz tego witam grupę kalejarzy z rejonu Krakowa; grupę górników z kopalni “Wawel” z Rudy Śląskiej; oraz uczestników grup turystycznych - PKS-u z Warszawy i z całej Polski; a także grupę z Sanoka i grupę Turysty.

Ad alcuni gruppi italiani

Saluto tutti i gruppi di lingua italiana, in particolare il folto gruppo, di Religiose, provenienti soprattutto dall’Italia, ma anche dall’Asia, Africa ed America Latina, le quali stanno partecipando alla Ventunesima Settimana Biblica Nazionale presso il Teresianum. Mi auguro, care Sorelle, che questi giorni siano per voi veramente ricchi di nuove e sante ispirazioni per un migliore impegno nella vostra vita di anime consacrate.

* * *

Saluto pure i seminaristi della Diocesi di Bergamo, i quali sono presenti insieme con i loro assistenti, superiori e familiari. Grazie, cari giovani, per questa testimonianza di affetto. Spero proprio che questa visita a Roma vi sia di grande conforto per il cammino spirituale che avete intrapreso.

* * *

Il mio pensiero va pure al gruppi di Allievi Ufficiali della Prima Compagnia della Scuola del Genio di Roma. A voi, cari giovani, ai vostri familiari, ai vostri Superiori il mio cordiale benvenuto. Possiate ricevere da questa visita, nella luce della fede, una motivazione più profonda dell’esperienza che attualmente state conducendo, così da orientarla meglio alla vostra maturazione umana ed al servizio della società e della pace.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Ai giovani, ai malati ed alle coppie degli sposi novelli, rivolgo ora una cordiale parola di saluto e di esortazione

Cari fratelli e sorelle, nel dirvi la mia gioia per la vostra presenza a questa Udienza, invito ciascuno di voi a guardare a Cristo, per imparare da lui a testimoniare l’amore di Dio per l’umanità. Voi giovani portate nel mondo la speranza cristiana che è possibile crescere come uomini onesti e coerenti.

Voi malati, proseguite nel tempo la sofferta donazione di Gesù, che ha posto nella croce la salvezza. E voi, coniugi, che avete reso santo il vostro reciproco amore, sappiate mostrare come sia lieta l’esistenza quando è posta nella carità di Dio.

A voi tutti, imparto la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Un nuovo invito a pregare per la pace in Libano è rivolto questa mattina dal Santo Padre ai fedeli di tutto il mondo. Cogliendo l’occasione offertagli dalla presenza di un gruppo di giovani libanesi all’udienza generale di questa mattina nell’Aula Paolo VI, il Santo Padre esprime ancora una volta il desiderio di pace che accomuna tutto ti popolo libanese ed invita la Chiesa a sostenerlo con la preghiera. 

Sono felice di accogliere affettuosamente il gruppo di giovani libanesi presenti qui tra di noi. Tutti noi amiamo il loro Paese; tutti noi speriamo ardentemente che esso ritroverà la pace. Al termine di questa udienza, come è consuetudine, canteremo il “Padre Nostro”: oggi lo faremo insieme pregando specialmente per il Libano.

A tutti voi, giovani e adulti, offro di cuore la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

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