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The Pentecost of the Gentiles

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 6 December 1989 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost brought Christ's paschal mystery to its fulfillment with his "departure" through the sacrifice of the cross. It completed God's revelation of himself through his Incarnate Son.

In this way "there is accomplished in its entirety the mission of the Messiah, that is to say of the one who has received the fullness of the Holy Spirit for the Chosen People of God and for the whole of humanity. 'Messiah' literally means 'Christ," that is, 'Anointed One,' and in the history of salvation it means 'the one anointed with the Holy Spirit.' This was the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament. Following this tradition, Simon Peter will say in the house of Cornelius: 'You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea...after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power" (Acts 10:37 f.) (DViv 15). Peter continued with a brief summary of the Gospel story, which is also a rudimentary creed, bearing witness to Christ crucified and risen, Redeemer and Savior of mankind, in the way of "all the prophets" (Acts 10:43).

2. On the one hand, Peter connected the descent of the Holy Spirit with the Old Testament tradition. On the other, he knew and proclaimed that on the day of Pentecost a new process began which would last down the centuries, bringing to complete fulfillment the history of salvation. The first stages of this process are described in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter himself was involved in a decisive moment of that process: the entrance of the first pagan into the Church, under the evident influence of the Holy Spirit who guided the action of the apostles. It was the case of the Roman centurion stationed at Caesarea. Peter had introduced him into the community of the baptized. He was aware of the decisive importance of that act which was undoubtedly not in conformity with existing religious practices. But at the same time he knew with certainty that God had willed it. On entering the centurion's house he "found many persons gathered; and he said to them, 'You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean" (Acts 10:28).

It was a great moment in the history of salvation. By that decision Peter made the primitive Church leave the ethnic-religious confines of Jerusalem and Judaism. He became the instrument of the Holy Spirit in launching it toward all peoples, according to Christ's command (cf. Mt 28:19). The prophetic tradition on the universality of God's kingdom in the world was thus fulfilled in a complete and higher way, far beyond the view of the Israelites attached to the old law. Peter had opened the way of the new law, in which the Gospel of salvation should reach all people without any distinction of nation, culture or religion, so that all might enjoy the fruits of redemption.

3. The Acts of the Apostles contains a detailed account of this event. In the first part we are informed about the interior process which made Peter aware of the step to be taken. We read that Peter, who was lodging for some days at the house of "Simon, a tanner" (Acts 10:6) at Joppa, "went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. And he became hungry and desired something to eat; but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And then came a voice to him, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.' But Peter said, 'No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.' And the voice came to him again a second time, 'What God has cleansed, you must not call common.' This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven" (Acts 10:9-16).

It was a vision which perhaps brought to the surface questions and uncertainties which had been fermenting in Peter's mind under the influence of the Holy Spirit in light of the experience gained during his early preaching. It was linked to the recollection of Christ's teaching and command about universal evangelization. It was a pause for reflection on that roof terrace at Joppa, opening on to the Mediterranean, which prepared Peter for the decisive step he had to take!

4. Indeed, "Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision he had seen might mean" (Acts 10:17). Then while he "was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, 'Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down, and accompany them without hesitation: for I have sent them'" (Acts 10:19-20). It is the Holy Spirit, therefore, who prepared Peter for the new task. He worked especially through the vision whereby he urged Peter to reflection, arranged the meeting with the three men—two servants and a devout solider (cf. Acts 10:7)—sent from Caesarea to seek and invite him. When the interior process was accomplished the Spirit gave Peter an explicit order. Obeying it, Peter decided to go to Caesarea to the house of Cornelius. He was received by the centurion and the members of his household with the respect due to a divine messenger. Peter recalled his vision and asked those present: "Why have you sent for me?" (Acts 10:29).

Cornelius, "an upright and God-fearing man" (Acts 10:22), explained how he got the idea of inviting him, an invitation also due to divine inspiration. And he concluded, saying: "Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord" (Acts 10:33).

5. Peter's reply, recorded in Acts, is full of theological and missionary significance. We read: "Peter opened his mouth and said: 'Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John had preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name'" (Acts 10:34-43).

6. It was well to quote this text in full, for it is a further condensation of the apostolic preaching and a first synthesis of catechesis which would later receive definitive form in the creed. It is the preaching and catechesis of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, repeated at Caesarea in the house of the pagan Cornelius. The event of the upper room was renewed in what may be called the Pentecost of the pagans, similar to that of Jerusalem, as Peter himself observed (cf. Acts 10:47; 11:15; 15:8). We read that "while Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles" (Acts 10:44-45).

7. "Then Peter declared, 'Can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?'" (Acts 10:47).

He said this before "the believers from among the circumcised," that is to say, the converts from Judaism, who were amazed because they heard Cornelius' relatives and friends "speaking in tongues and extolling God" (cf. Acts 10:46), just as had happened at Jerusalem on the day of the first Pentecost. It was an analogy of events full of significance: indeed, it was as if it were the same event, a single Pentecost verified in different circumstances.

The conclusion is the same: Peter "commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 10:48). We have, then, the baptism of the first pagans. By his apostolic authority and guided by the light of the Holy Spirit, Peter thus began the spreading of the Gospel and the extension of the Church beyond the frontiers of Israel.

8. The Holy Spirit, who descended on the apostles by virtue of Christ's redemptive sacrifice, had confirmed that the salvific value of this sacrifice extends to all humanity. Peter had heard the interior voice saying: "What God has cleansed, you must not call common" (Acts 10:15). He knew very well that the cleansing had taken place by means of the blood of Christ, the Son of God, who, as we read in the Letter to the Hebrews (9:14), "through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God." We are assured that that blood "will purify our consciences from dead works to serve the living God." Peter had come to understand better that the new times had arrived when, as the prophets had foretold, even the sacrifices of the pagans would be pleasing to Yahweh (cf. Is 56:7; Mal 1:11; and also Rom 15:16; Phil 4:18; 1 Pet 2:5). Therefore he said with full awareness to the centurion Cornelius: "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality," as Israel had already learned from Deuteronomy, echoed in Peter's words: "The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God who is not partial..." (Dt 10:17). The Acts testifies that Peter was the first to grasp the new sense of that old idea which was incorporated into the apostles' teaching (cf. 1 Pet 1:17; Gal 2:6; Rom 2:11).

Such is the interior genesis of those beautiful words spoken to Cornelius on the human relationship with God: " every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:35)."


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

Ai fedeli di espressione linguistica francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

JE SALUE cordialement les professeurs et les étudiants italiens et français qui participent ces jours-ci à la liaison télématique internationale sur la légende de saint Nicolas. La dimension européenne de leur action est d’un grand intérêt. Je leur souhaite de continuer à déployer leur énergie au service des communications entre les hommes.

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AVEC PLAISIR, j’offre mes vœux aux pèlerins et aux visiteurs de langue française, et, en ce temps de préparation aux fêtes de la Nativité, je prie le Seigneur de les bénir.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I EXTEND A CORDIAL welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims present here this morning, in particular to the parish groups from England, and to the priests and religious from Taiwan.

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I AM PLEASED to greet the representatives of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, and to thank you for the work you do for the support of seminarians and for the promotion of vocations to the priesthood. May this visit strengthen you in your resolve to live with deep faith and ardent hope the ideale of your praiseworthy organization.

A special greeting also goes to the numerous members of the United States Armed Forces. And upon all the English-speaking visitors I invoke Almighty God’s abundant blessings.

Ai molti fedeli di espressione linguistica tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

MIT DIESER KURZEN Betrachtung eines wichtigen Aspektes des Pfingstereignisses grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Ich wünsche Euch einen guten Aufenthalt in Rom und erteile Euch und Euren Familien sowie den Hörerninnen und Hörern von Radio Vatikan für eine gnadenreiche Adventszeit von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

ME COMPLACE SALUDAR ahora a los peregrinos de lengua española, venidos de España y de América Latina.

En primer lugar saludo al grupo de sacerdotes latinoamericanos, presentes en Roma para un curso de espiritualidad sacerdotal y misionera. Al regresar a vuestro lugar de apostolado os pido que transmitáis vuestra experiencia de Iglesia como comunión de fe en la caridad. 

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DESEO SALUDAR también a un grupo de colaboradores de la revista “New Magazin 73”, a los alumnos y alumnas del Instituto “Francisco Figueras Pacheco” de Alicante (España), acompañados de sus familiares, así como a los jóvenes guatemaltecos “Europa Juvenil”. En estos días cercanos a la Navidad y a la Jornada Mundial de la Paz, os invito a todos a trabajar siempre por la paz en las familias, en la sociedad y entre los pueblos.

Con gran afecto os imparto a todos mi Bendición Apostólica. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese 

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

SAÚDO CORDIALMENTE quantos me escutam, para todos implorando, neste tempo de Advento, que o Senhor venha aos corações de todos, por intercessão de Maria, Imaculada Conceição. 

Ai suoi connazionali polacchi 

WITAM PIELGRZYMÓW z Polski: pielgrzymów duszpasterstwa ludzi pracy “Czwartki Mistrzejowickie” z Mistrzejowic-Nowej Huty; katechetki i katechetów z diecezji włocławskiej; przedstawicielstwo KUL-u z rektorem i prorektorami; studentów wydziału archeologii Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego z Krakowa; pielgrzymkę duszpasterstwa kolejarzy z Warszawy oraz uczestników grupy Turysta . . . Kieruję życzenia na Boże Narodzenie do was, a także za waszym pośrednictwem do wszystkich waszych środowisk w Ojczyźnie. 

Ai numerosi fedeli italiani 

Mi è gradito ora rivolgere un cordiale saluto ai gruppi di pellegrini di lingua italiana. Abbiamo tra noi il gruppo folkloristico “Il Borgo”, di Vinchiaturo, in diocesi di Campobasso. Mi compiaccio con voi, cari giovani, per il vostro intento di mantener vive le sane tradizioni popolari della vostra terra: è un prezioso contributo culturale che date alla società; vi auguro pertanto ogni buon successo. 

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È inoltre presente il gruppo della società polisportiva di Bellegra, in diocesi di Subiaco, insieme con le autorità civili ed i dirigenti sportivi. Un cordiale saluto anche a voi, con l’augurio che gli ideali dello sport siano sempre per voi inquadrati in una concezione della vita che mira all’elevazione morale dell’uomo e della società.

Rallegramenti, infine, al caro alunno Leonardo Giorgetti, del Collegio Nazareno di Roma, presente con i suoi familiari e compagni di scuola. Egli ha ricevuto un premio bello e impegnativo - quello della “bontà”. Gli auguro che sappia impegnarsi ancora, sforzandosi di essere a tutti di esempio nella bontà. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Rivolgo ora il mio saluto ai Giovani, agli Ammalati e agli Sposi Novelli

Vi ringrazio della vostra presenza all’Udienza Generale, perché essa è segno della vostra fede e della vostra testimonianza cristiana: il pellegrinaggio a Roma e l’incontro con il Papa approfondiscano sempre più le vostre convinzioni religiose, dilatando i vostri animi alla bontà e alla carità universale.

Oggi celebriamo nella Liturgia la memoria del grande santo ecumenico, Nicola di Bari, santo conosciuto per il suo amore verso i poveri, Vescovo di Mira, in Asia Minore, prese parte al Concilio di Nicea nel 325. Le sue reliquie furono trasportate nel secolo XI a Bari, dove venne costruita una grandiosa Cattedrale. San Nicola è molto venerato nella Chiesa Ortodossa russa, ma egli è santo universale, tanto che, nel suo nome sono fiorite gentili tradizioni, specie tra i popoli nordici.

Invocatelo, cari giovani, affinché San Nicola vi faccia sempre più attenti alle necessità dei più poveri, e buoni con tutti: voi malati, chiedetegli il dono dell’unione tra i Cristiani, offrendo a questo scopo le vostre sofferenze; e voi, Sposi Novelli, affidate a San Nicola la vostra nuova vita e la vostra famiglia, affinché sempre regnino tra di voi la pace e la serenità nella carità!

E vi aiuti e vi accompagni anche la mia Benedizione!

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