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The Church bears witness to Christ

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 20 May 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The prophetic office which we spoke of in the previous catechesis is exercised by the Church through the witness of faith. This witness includes and highlights all the aspects of Christ's life and teaching. We find this stated in a text of Vatican II, in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, where it presents Jesus Christ as the new man who casts his light on the otherwise insoluble riddle of life and death. "Only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light" (GS 22). The Council goes on to state that this is the help which the Church wants to offer people so that they may discover or rediscover in divine revelation their true and complete identity. We read: "Since it has been entrusted to the Church to reveal the mystery of God, who is the ultimate goal of man, she opens up to man at the same time the meaning of his own existence, that is, the innermost truth about himself. The Church truly knows that only God, whom she serves, meets the deepest longings of the human heart, which is never fully satisfied by what this world has to offer" (GS 41). This means that the Church's prophetic office, which consists in proclaiming divine truth, also entails revealing to the human person the truth about himself, the truth which is revealed in all its fullness only in Christ.

2. The Church shows the human person this truth not only in a theoretical or abstract way, but also in a way which we can call existential and very concrete, because her vocation is to give people the life which is in Christ crucified and risen, as Jesus himself foretold to the apostles, "...because I live and you will live" (Jn 14:19). The bestowal of new life in Christ on a human person begins at the time of Baptism. St. Paul states this in an incomparable way in his Letter to the Romans: "Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through Baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.... Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus" (Rom 6:3-5, 11). This is the mystery of Baptism, which is an initiation into the new life that the "new man," Christ, shares with those who are sacramentally inserted into his one body which is the Church.

3. In Baptism and the other sacraments we truly can say that the Church "opens up to man...the meaning of his own existence" in a living and vital way. We can speak of a "sacramental evangelization" which belongs to the Church's prophetic office and enables us to understand better the truth about the Church as a "prophetic community." The Church's prophetic ministry is expressed when she proclaims and sacramentally produces the "following of Christ," which becomes an imitation of Christ not only in a moral sense, but as a true and proper reproduction of Christ's life in the individual--a "newness of life" (Rom 6:4). It is a divine life, which through Christ is shared with man, as St. Paul states over and over: "And even when you were dead in transgressions...he brought you to life along with him [Christ]" (Col 2:13); "So whoever is in Christ is a new creation" (2 Cor 5:17).

4. Christ, then, is the divine answer which the Church gives to basic human problems: Christ, who is perfect man. The Council says: "Whoever follows Christ...becomes himself more of a man" (GS 41). By giving witness to the life of Christ, the "perfect man," the Church shows every person the way to realize fully his or her own humanity. Through her preaching she offers everyone an authentic model of life, and with the sacraments she instills in believers the vital energy which allows the new life to develop and spread from member to member in the ecclesial community. For this reason, Jesus calls his disciples the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" (Mt 5:13-14).

5. In giving witness to Christ's life, the Church enables people to know him who, during his earthly life, most perfectly fulfilled "the greatest commandment" (Mt 22:38-40), which he himself proclaimed. He fulfilled it in its twofold dimension. In fact, through his life and death Jesus Christ showed what it means to love God "above all else" in that attitude of homage and obedience to the Father which led him to say: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work" (Jn 4:34). Jesus also confirmed and perfectly fulfilled the love of neighbor by which he defined and conducted himself as "the Son of Man [who] did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt 20:28).

6. The Church is a witness to the Beatitudes which Jesus proclaimed (cf. Mt 5:3-12). She strives to increase in the world the number of: "the poor in spirit," who do not seek the goal of life in material possessions or money; "the meek," who reveal Christ's "meek and humble heart" and reject violence; "the clean of heart," who live in truth and sincerity; "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness," that is, for the divine holiness which seeks to be established in individual and social life; "the merciful," who have compassion on the suffering and help them; "the peacemakers," who foster reconciliation and understanding among individuals and nations.

7. The Church is a witness and bearer of the sacrificial offering which Christ made of himself. She follows the way of the cross and always remembers the fruitfulness of suffering borne and offered in union with the Savior's sacrifice. Her prophetic office is exercised in recognizing the value of the cross. Therefore, the Church strives especially to live the Beatitudes of the suffering and the persecuted. Jesus predicted persecution for his disciples (cf. Mt 24:9). Perseverance in persecution is part of the witness which the Church gives to Christ. It extends from the martyrdom of St. Stephen (cf. Acts 7:55-60), the apostles, their successors and so many Christians, to the sufferings of bishops, priests, religious and the faithful who in our day have also shed their blood and suffered torture, imprisonment and humiliations of every kind for their fidelity to Christ. The Church is a witness to the resurrection, a witness to the joy of the Good News, a witness to eternal happiness and to that happiness which is already present in earthly life and which the risen Christ gives, as we shall see in the next catechesis.

8. In giving this multifaceted witness to the life of Christ, the Church fulfills the prophetic office proper to her. At the same time, through this prophetic witness she "reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear," as the Council said (GS 22). It is a question of a prophetic mission which has a clearly Christocentric meaning and which, precisely for this reason, has a profound anthropological value, as a light and vital force coming from the incarnate Word. Today, more than ever, the Church is involved in this mission on behalf of human beings, for she knows that in human salvation the glory of God is achieved. For this reason, from my very first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, I have said: "Man is the way for the Church" (RH 14).

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

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dem innigen Wunsch, die Betrachtung des Lebens des menschgewordenen Gottes und das Hören auf seine Verkündi gung mögen uns zum Verständnis und zur Erkenntnis unserer eigenen Existenz und unseres Menschseins verhelfen, grübe ich Euch herzlich, liebe deutschsprachige Pilger und Besucher.

Besonders heibe ich die Gruppe aus verschiedenen Pfarreien der neuen deutschen Bundesländer willkommen, die unter dem Motto ”Gemeinsam unterwegs“ diese Pilgerreise unternommen haben, ebenso die Teilnehmerinnen und Teilnehmer der Leserfahrt der Kirchenzeitung für das Erzbistum Köln sowie die Pilgergruppe der Caritas-BehindertenWerkstätten aus Brilon und die Gruppe von Schülerinnen, Schülern und Lehrern der Jahrgangsstufe 11 des Albrecht-Altdorfer-Gymnasiums Regensburg.

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

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Chers pèlerins et visiteurs de langue française, en ce temps pascal qui nous fait contempler le Christ ressuscité, je vous invite à ouvrir toujours davantage vos cœurs à l’action du Rédempteur, à le laisser saisir votre vie pour l’offrir à son Père. Je vous souhaite un bon séjour dans la ville où saint Pierre a rendu le témoignage de la foi, et je demande au Seigneur de vous garder chaque jour sur sa route.

À chacun d’entre vous, j’accorde de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend cordial greetings to the priests of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and to the Marist Brothers participating in programmes of continuing formation; may the Holy Spirit strengthen you to reaffirm your total consecration to Christ and his Kingdom. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, from England, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Canada and the United States, I invoke abundant divine blessings.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola 

Deseo ahora presentar mi saludo afectuoso a los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española.

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas, se hallan presentes en la audiencia de hoy numerosos peregri nos de diversos Países latinoamericanos: Costa Rica, México, Colombia, Panamá, Honduras y Argentina. A todos doy mi más cordial bienvenida, así como a la peregrinación procedente de Madrid.

Mientras encomiendo al Señor a vosotros y a vuestras familias para que deis siempre testimonio de vuestra fe cristiana, como hemos expuesto en nuestra catequesis de hoy, os imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

¡Alabado sea Jesucristo! 

Ad alcuni gruppi di espressione portoghese 

Queridos irmãos e irmãs. A Igreja, como comunidade profética que é, recebeu a missão de testemunhar a luz e a força que o Verbo Encarnado irradia sobre a humanidade: só n’Ele se esclarece verdadeiramente o mistério do homem.18 Nessa missão, a Igreja está hoje mais empenhada que nunca, certa de que a glória de Deus é o homem vivo, e de que lhe foi concedido reproduzir, no homem, a própria vida de Cristo ressuscitado.

Uma vez renovados pela força pascal, os cristãos tornam-se “sal” e “luz” para os outros homens, que se vão congregando em pequenas comunidades crentes. É com grande alegria que saúdo uma destas comunidades - a paróquia dos Olivais do Sul, na cidade de Lisboa - peregrina da Cidade eterna, no vigésimo quinto aniversário da sua fundação. O Sucessor de Pedro invoca de Deus as melhores bênçãos sobre vós e todas as famílias da paróquia, sobre os que sofrem e a juventude. Uma saudação particular vai também para o grupo de peregrinos, de várias cidades do Brasil.

A todos abençoo, e confio os vossos caminhos à Virgem Maria. 

Ai pellegrini italiani 

Nel salutare i pellegrini di lingua italiana, desidero ora rivolgere un pensiero particolare ai numerosi fedeli della zona pastorale del Cònero, in diocesi di Ancona. Carissimi, mi compiaccio per la vostra sensibilità religiosa e per la solidarietà verso i fratelli meno fortunati. Incoraggio il progetto pastorale della vostra Arcidiocesi, che si rivolge specialmente ai giovani, per invitarli ad essere sempre più attenti alle necessità del prossimo. Prego il Signore che allieti le vostre iniziative di buoni frutti spirituali, e che, soprattutto, conforti le Comunità cristiane di numerose e generose vocazioni al sacerdozio.

Il mio pensiero va, poi, ai pellegrini della parrocchia “Madonna dei Miracoli” ed al gruppo Bandistico di Casalbordino, in diocesi di Chieti-Vasto. Auspico che il Santuario Mariano, di cui ricordate il decimo anniversario della dedicazione, sia sempre un’oasi di rinnovamento spirituale e di conversione.

Esprimo, altresì, il mio incoraggiamento e il mio plauso ai rappresentanti dell’Associazione Volontari “Dokita”, che si accingono a partire per il Brasile, dove daranno vita a “Case-Famiglia” per i bambini abbandonati. Prego il Signore perché faccia fiorire tale iniziativa, destinata a far del bene.

Saluto anche i militari italiani del 91° Battaglione fanteria “Lucania”, in pellegrinaggio verso il Santuario di Lourdes, ed i soldati in servizio presso il Quartier Generale del Comando NATO di Napoli. A tutti il cordiale augurio, che la vita militare lasci in loro ricordi positivi di amicizia, di collaborazione, di concordia e, soprattutto, di esperienze religiose corroboranti per un più generoso impegno cristiano. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Mi è gradito, infine, salutare i ragazzi e i giovani, gli ammalati e le coppie di sposi novelli.

Alla luce delle due Beatificazioni di domenica scorsa, vi addito l’itinerario affascinante della santità, che non è riservato a pochi

fortunati, ma è aperto a tutti. Siate poveri di spirito e puri di cuore, cari giovani, siate miti e operatori di pace, e raggiungerete la perfezione cristiana.

E voi, cari ammalati, spesso afflitti da tante prove dolorose, siate forti ed abbiate fiducia, poiché vi è riservata la ricompensa certa promessa da Cristo a chi sa offrire tutto con gioia.

Raccomando agli sposi novelli di realizzare la santità, conservando viva la fede nel Sacramento appena ricevuto, quali testimoni gioiosi dell’amore fecondo di Dio.

A tutti imparto la mia benedizione. 

Un dramma spaventoso che esige un impegno urgente di solidarietà 

La gioia dell’incontro odierno è purtroppo turbata dalle dolorose notizie circa l’esodo dalla Bosnia-Erzegovina di un numero ingente di profughi, che hanno cercato rifugio nelle vicine Repubbliche di Croazia e di Slovenia e che ora si dirigono verso l’Italia, l’Austria e altri Paesi amici. È un dramma spaventoso, quale non si vedeva in Europa dalla fine della Seconda Guerra Mondiale e che obbliga tutti gli uomini di buona volontà, e soprattutto i credenti, a un impegno urgente di solidarietà verso questi nostri fratelli e sorelle provati dalla sventura. Di fronte ai nostri occhi vi sono i volti esterrefatti di tanti bambini e di numerosi anziani, che ci chiedono aiuto.

È vero che i Governi di vari Paesi si stanno già interessando al riguardo e che altrettanto stanno facendo vari organismi internazionali, ma la tragedia continua. Da parte mia, ho incaricato il Pontificio Consiglio “Cor Unum” d’intensificare la sua opera di coordinamento del lavoro della “Caritas Internationalis” e delle varie organizzazioni assistenziali dei Paesi interessati.

Vorrei ora rivolgere un pressante appello a tutti gli uomini di buona volontà, affinché cooperino generosamente a tutte le iniziative che stanno sorgendo, per aiutare chi soffre a causa dell’iniqua lotta fratricida che insanguina la Bosnia-Erzegovina.

Vi invito, infine, a pregare per il ritorno della pace in quel tribolato Paese, facendo nostra l’orazione del Messale Romano (nella Santa Messa in tempo di guerra o di disordini):

“O Dio, forte e misericordioso, che condanni le guerre e abbatti l’orgoglio dei potenti, allontana i lutti e gli orrori che affliggono l’umanità . . . E così sia”.

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