Today’s weekly papal general audience took place once again in the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard on a warm, muggy day that did not discourage hundreds of faithful from climbing the great (and breathtaking!) staircase that brings you from St. Peter’s Square to the courtyard via the Bronze Gate.
There was one person present who was as recognizable as the pontiff dressed in his trademark white and that was Spiderman in his trademark red and blue body suit with grey webbing! Pope Francis knew who he was and seemed to enjoy their encounter immensely!
It’s a terrific story and CNA’s Hannah Brockhaus tells us why Spiderman was at the general audience: Why was Spider-Man at Pope Francis’ general audience? (catholicnewsagency.com)
Before starting his catechesis, Francis spent about 45 minutes walking around the San Damaso courtyard, greeting scores of people, blessing babies, men and women religious, the elderly – basically just about anyone leaning against one of the barriers. Hands flew out from all directions to simply touch the pope but many today also had pen and paper (or a book or anything the Pope could write on) and asked for – and received – an autograph!
You could sense the Pope’s joy at this encounter. Covid had snuffed out so many meetings since March of 2020 and these are always occasions that popes look forward to. Thus, being in the presence of the faithful is really a pick-me-up for the Pope.
The Holy Father began a new catechesis this week with reflections on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. The Pope explains who the Galatians were and how they had settled in what is modern day Turkey. I found the catechesis especially interesting as it makes Paul and his travels and the people and nations to whom he brought the Gospel very alive and colorful. And I may have enjoyed it because I’ve travelled in his footsteps!
I went on a pilgrimage to Turkey “in the footsteps of St. Paul” a few years back and it was one of the most remarkable trips I’ve ever taken! I was also in Turkey for Pope Benedict’s trip years to Ankara, Istanbul and Mary’s House in Ephesus – more unforgettable days! My very first trip to Turkey was in June 1996 when I was a member of the Holy See delegation to the United Nations conference on Human Settlements “Habitat” in Istanbul. Several incredible weeks!
PAPAL CATECHESIS ON ST. PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS
Pope Francis began the audience by explaining that, “after the long itinerary dedicated to prayer, today we begin a new cycle of catechesis. I hope that with this itinerary of prayer we have succeeded in praying a little better, praying a little more. Today I would like to reflect on some themes proposed by the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Galatians. It is a very important Letter, I would even say decisive, not only for getting to know the Apostle better, but above all in considering some topics that he addresses in depth, showing the beauty of the Gospel.” (CNA photo)
“In this Letter,” said the Pope, “Paul makes many biographical references that allow us to understand his conversion and his decision to place his life at the service of Jesus Christ. He also deals with some very important themes for the faith, such as freedom, grace and the Christian way of life, which are extremely topical since they touch on many aspects of the life of the Church today. This letter is very topical. It seems to be written for our times.”
Francis noted that, “the first feature that emerges from this Letter is the great work of evangelisation carried out by the Apostle, who had visited the communities of Galatia at least twice during his missionary journeys. Paul addresses the Christians of that territory. We do not know exactly which geographical area he is referring to, nor can we state with certainty the date on which he wrote this Letter. We do know that the Galatians were an ancient Celtic population who, after many vicissitudes, had settled in the extensive region of Anatolia that had as its capital the city of Ancyra, today Ankara, the capital of Turkey.”
“Paul relates only that, due to illness, he was obliged to stay in that region (cf. Gal 4:13),” said the Holy Father. “Saint Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, finds instead a more spiritual motivation. He says, ‘they went through the region of Phry’gia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the Word in Asia’ (16:6).”
However, explains the Pope, “the two facts are not contradictory: rather, they indicate that the path of evangelisation does not always depend on our will and plans, but requires a willingness to allow ourselves to be shaped and to follow other paths that were not foreseen. (CNA photo)
Francis pointed out that we see “in his indefatigable work of evangelisation, the Apostle succeeded in founding several small communities scattered throughout the region of Galatia. Paul, when he arrived in a city, in a region, did not construct a great cathedral immediately, no. He created small communities that are the leaven of our Christian culture today. He began by making small communities. And these small communities grew, they grew and they went forward. Today, too, this pastoral method is used in every missionary region. I received a letter last week, from a missionary in Papua New Guinea, telling me that he is preaching the Gospel in the forest, to people who do not even know who Jesus Christ was.”
He then highlights Paul’s “pastoral concern,” stating that, “after founding these Churches, he became aware of a great danger to their growth in faith – the pastor is like a father or a mother who immediately aware of dangers to their children. They grow, and dangers present themselves.”
“Indeed, some Christians who had come from Judaism had infiltrated these churches, and began to sow theories contrary to the Apostle’s teaching, even going so far as to denigrate him. They began with doctrine – “No to this, yes to that”, and then they denigrated the Apostle. It is the usual method: undermining the authority of the Apostle.”
“Not only that,” stressed Pope Francis, “those adversaries argued that Paul was not a true apostle and therefore had no authority to preach the Gospel. Let us think about how in some Christian communities or dioceses, first they begin with stories, and then they end by discrediting the priest or the bishop. It is precisely the way of the evil one, of these people who divide, who do not know how to build. And in this Letter to the Galatians we see this process.”
The faithful in Galatia thus “felt lost and uncertain about how to behave: “But who is right? This Paul, or these people who now come teaching other things? Who should I listen to?” In short, there was a lot at stake!!
The Holy Father concluded his first catechesis by noting that, “following the teaching of the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Galatians will help us to understand which path to follow. The path indicated by the Apostle is the liberating and ever-new path of Jesus, Crucified and Risen; it is the path of proclamation, which is achieved through humility and fraternity – the new preachers do not know what humility is, what fraternity is. It is the path of meek and obedient trust – the new preachers know neither meekness nor obedience. And this meek and obedient way leads forward in the certainty that the Holy Spirit works in the Church in every age. Ultimately, faith in the Holy Spirit present in the Church carries us forward and will save us.”