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The birth of the Church at Pentecost

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 2 October 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. During the preceding catecheses we have often referred to the Holy Spirit's intervention in the Church's origins. Now it is time for us to devote a special catechesis to this beautiful and important topic.

Before ascending to heaven, Jesus said to the apostles, "I am sending the promise of my Father upon you, but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Lk 24:49). Jesus intended to prepare the apostles directly for the fulfillment of "the promise of my Father." The evangelist Luke repeats the same final exhortation of the Teacher in the first verses of the Acts of the Apostles: "While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father" (1:4).

During all of his messianic activity, Jesus preached about the kingdom of God and prepared for the "time of the Church," which was to begin after his departure. When his departure was close, he announced that the day was soon coming when this time was to begin (cf. Acts 1:5), that is, the day of the descent of the Holy Spirit. Looking to the future, he added, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

2. When the day of Pentecost came the apostles were gathered together in prayer with the Mother of the Lord. They saw proof that Jesus Christ acted in conformity with what he had announced; the "promise of the Father" was being fulfilled. The first of the apostles, Simon Peter, proclaimed this when he spoke to the assembly. Peter spoke by first recalling Jesus' death on the cross, and then he witnessed to the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: "God raised this Jesus; of this we are witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth" (Acts 2:32-33).

From the first day Peter asserted that the "promise of the Father" has been fulfilled as a result of the resurrection, because it is in virtue of his cross and resurrection that Christ, the Son who has been exalted "at the right hand of God," sends the Spirit, as Christ had announced even before his passion during the farewell in the upper room.

3. The Holy Spirit thus initiated the mission of the Church, which was established for all people. But we cannot forget that the Holy Spirit was at work as an "unknown God" (cf. Acts 17:23) even before Pentecost. He was at work in a special way in the old covenant, enlightening and leading the Chosen People on the way which brought ancient history to the Messiah. He was at work in the messages of the prophets and in the writings of all the inspired authors. He was especially at work in the Incarnation of the Son. The Gospel of the annunciation witnesses to this, as does the history of the subsequent events connected with the incarnate Word's coming into the world and assuming human nature. The Holy Spirit was at work in the Messiah and surrounded the Messiah from the moment when Jesus began his messianic mission in Israel. One can see this in the Gospel texts about the theophany at the time of his baptism in the Jordan and his declarations in the synagogue of Nazareth. But from that time and throughout Jesus' whole life, expectations were heightened and promises renewed for the future definitive coming of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist tied the mission of the Messiah to a new baptism "in the Holy Spirit." Jesus promised "streams of living water" to those who would believe in him. This promise is mentioned in John's Gospel, which explains it this way: "He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit as yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified" (Jn 7:39). On the day of Pentecost, Christ, who was now glorified after completing his mission, made "streams of living water" well up from within himself. He poured out the Spirit to fill the apostles and all believers with divine life. They were thus able to be "baptized in one Spirit" (cf. 1 Cor 12:13). It was the beginning of the Church's growth.

4. As the Second Vatican Council writes: "Christ sent from the Father his Holy Spirit, who was to carry on inwardly his saving work and prompt the Church to spread out. Doubtless, the Holy Spirit was already at work in the world before Christ was glorified. Yet on the day of Pentecost, he came down upon the disciples to remain with them forever (cf. Jn 14:16). The Church was publicly displayed to the multitude, the Gospel began to spread among the nations by means of preaching, and there was presaged that union of all peoples in the catholicity of the faith by means of the Church of the new covenant, a Church which speaks all tongues, understands and accepts all tongues in her love, and so supersedes the divisiveness of Babel" (AG 4).

The conciliar text indicates what constitutes the Holy Spirit's action in the Church, beginning with the day of Pentecost. It is an interior, saving work which is also expressed externally in the birth of a community and institution of salvation. This community--the community of the first disciples--was permeated with love, which overcomes all differences and divisions of an earthly nature. A sign of this is the Pentecost event with an expression of faith in God which is understandable to all, despite the differences in language. The Acts of the Apostles attests that the people who gathered around the apostles at the first public manifestation of the Church said in amazement: "Are not all of these men who are speaking Galileans? How is it that each of us hears them in his native tongue?" (Acts 2:7-8).

5. The Church, which had just been born in this way on the day of Pentecost by the work of the Holy Spirit, was immediately revealed to the world. It is not a closed community, but an open one--it could be called a community thrown wide open--to all the nations "even to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Those who enter this community through Baptism become, by virtue of the Holy Spirit of truth, witnesses of the Good News and are ready to pass it on to others. It is therefore a dynamic, apostolic community, the Church "in a state of mission."

The Holy Spirit first "bears witness" to Christ (cf. Jn 15:26) and this witness pervades the heart and soul of those who participate in Pentecost. They in turn become witnesses and proclaimers. The "tongues of fire" (Acts 2:3) which appeared over the head of each one present are the external sign of the enthusiasm enkindled in them by the Holy Spirit. The apostles extended this enthusiasm to their listeners, as already happened after Peter's discourse on the first day: "Some three thousand were added" (Acts 2:41).

6. The entire Acts of the Apostles is a grand description of the Holy Spirit's work at the beginning of the Church, which--as we read--"was being built up and was making steady progress in the fear of the Lord; at the same time it enjoyed the increased consolation of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 9:31). We know that it had internal difficulties and persecutions, and there were the first martyrs. But the apostles were certain that the Holy Spirit was there to guide them. This awareness of theirs would in some way be formalized in the concluding decision of the Council of Jerusalem, whose resolutions began with the words: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours too..." (Acts 15:28). In this way the community gave evidence of its own awareness of being moved by the action of the Holy Spirit."

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

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Indem ich am Ende dieser kurzen Betrachtung dazu einlade, den Heiligen Geist zu bitten, daß er unseren Glauben an die Kirche vermehren und stärken möge, grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Gruß gilt der Pilgergruppe erwachsener Behinderter aus den Schweizer Diözesen ”Rom im Rollstuhl“, den Teilnehmern des Regensburger Dom-Seminars für Journalisten unter Leitung von Bischof Manfred Müller sowie einer Gruppe von Mitgliedern des Bayerischen Landtags.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio und Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’accueille avec plaisir toutes les personnes de langue française présentes à cette audience. Vous savez que, dans deux jours, nous célébrerons la fête de saint François, qui fit monter vers le Créateur une louange si joyeuse pour son œuvre. A l’approche de leur rassemblement d’Assise, je salue volontiers les Représentants de diverses Associations européennes pour la défense de la vie animale, en formant les meilleurs vœux pour leur action.

Je salue également les Frères maristes et leur souhaite une bonne session. Enfin, j’adresse mes vœux aux pèlerins de Valleyfield qui sont venus à Rome, à l’occasion de l’élévation de leur cathédrale au rang de Basilique mineure. Je leur souhaite de faire une expérience toujours plus vive des liens qui unissent leur sanctuaire au Siège de Pierre. Que le Seigneur vous bénisse et vous garde!

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the group of pilgrims from Memphis visiting Europe in the company of their Bishop. My cordial greeting also goes to the new students of the Venerable English College. Dear young men: as you begin your studies for the priesthood in Rome, may you grow in holiness and in the desire to dedicate yourselves fully to the service of God’s People. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from the United States, Australia, Korea and Indonesia, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,
Me es grato saludar ahora a todos los peregrinos de lengua española.

De modo particular doy mi cordial bienvenida al grupo de profesores y estudiantes del Colegio “XXI de Abril” de Mendoza (Argentina); así como al grupo de visitantes peruanos que peregrinan hacia Tierra Santa y a otros fieles procedentes de aquel amado País. Saludo también al grupo de Oficiales de la Academia Militar de Chile y a los peregrinos mexicanos venidos de Monterrey y de Aguascalientes. Entre los grupos procedentes de España, saludo a la Junta Directiva del Skal Club de Barcelona, que celebran el cuarenta aniversario de su fundación. Pido que todos seáis iluminados por el Espíritu Santo, para que recibáis sus dones que os permitan vivir cada día con más autenticidad y vigor los genuinos valores del Evangelio. A todos los peregrinos procedentes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España, os imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs

Neste único Espírito, em que fomos baptizados, para formarmos todos um só Corpo, me alegro de vos acolher e abraçar, amados peregrinos de língua portuguesa, com menção particular para os estudantes do Pontifício Colégio Pio Brasileiro que em Roma vão iniciar os seus estudos, para uma delegação municipal de Urussaga que nestes dias sela a sua geminação com a cidade de Longarone, para um grupo de peregrinos brasileiros sob a direcção do Comissariado da Terra Santa em São Paulo, e tantos outros vindos da diocese de Jundiaí, de Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo, Bahia, Paraná, Brasília, São Paulo e Rio de Janeiro. Colocai a vossa vida ao serviço do Espírito Santo, para vos tornardes fiéis mensageiros do Evangelho de Jesus Cristo. Para vós, para os vossos familiares e para as vossas comunidades, desejo as maiores felicidades, e de bom grado vos concedo a Bênção Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana

Saluto ora tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana,

sempre numerosi e graditi. In particolare rivolgo un pensiero al Presidente, ai Vice-Presidenti e ai membri del Comitato Esecutivo della Federazione Universale delle Associazioni di Agenzie di Viaggio. Esprimo loro anzitutto il mio compiacimento per i fini umanitari e sociali che l’associazione si propone.

Voglia il Signore assistere le vostre iniziative culturali; esse vi servano anche per testimoniare la vostra fede e intrecciare vincoli di amicizia e di solidarietà.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Il mio saluto cordiale va ora ai giovani, presenti a questa Udienza, ai cari ammalati ed alle numerose coppie di sposi novelli.

Carissimi, nella memoria liturgica degli Angeli Custodi, all’inizio di un mese dedicato alla Beata Vergine del Rosario, vi invito ad approfondire i grandi misteri della salvezza, che sono annunciati in questa pia pratica, tanto cara alla pietà cristiana.

Invito voi, giovani, a sperimentare la gioia di sentirvi figli di Dio e ad impegnarvi nella costruzione del suo Regno in mezzo agli uomini.

A voi, ammalati, chiedo di contribuire con l’offerta delle vostre sofferenze alla redenzione del mondo.

E voi, sposi novelli, vivete in pienezza la vocazione alla santità mediante una incondizionata, reciproca donazione ed una generosa testimonianza cristiana.

A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica.

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