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The Church is universal by nature

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 13 November 1991 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Church is the People of God of the new covenant, as we saw in our previous catechesis. The topic of today's catechesis is the universal dimension of the People of God. According to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, "Although it does not actually include all men, and at times may look like a small flock, [the Church] is nonetheless a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race" (LG 9).

Such a universality of the Church as the People of God is in close relation to the revealed truth about God as Creator of all that exists, Redeemer of all mankind, author of holiness and life in every person through the power of the Holy Spirit.

2. We know that the old covenant was established with only one people chosen by God, the people of Israel. However, the Old Testament is not lacking in texts which foretell this future universality. This is indicated in the promise God made to Abraham: "All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you" (Gen 12:3), a promise renewed several times and extended to "all the nations of the earth" (Gen 18:18). Other texts specify that this universal blessing would be communicated by the offspring of Abraham (cf. Gen 22:18), Isaac (cf. Gen 26:4) and Jacob (cf. Gen 28:14). The same concept is repeated in other expressions by the prophets, especially in the Book of Isaiah: "In days to come," he writes, "the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say 'Come, let us climb the Lord's mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths'.... He shall judge between the nations and impose terms on many peoples" (Is 2:2-4). "On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines.... On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations" (Is 25:6-7). From Second Isaiah come the predictions concerning the "servant of the Lord": "I, the Lord...formed you and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations" (Is 42:6). The Book of Jonah is also significant when it describes the prophet's mission to Nineveh, which was outside Israel's sphere (cf. Jon 4:10-11).

These passages, and others too, help us to understand that the Chosen People of the old covenant was a foreshadowing of and preparation for the future People of God, which would be universal in breadth. Therefore, after Christ's resurrection, the "Good News" was first proclaimed to Israel (cf. Acts 2:36; 4:10).

3. Jesus Christ was the founder of this new people. When Jesus was a mere infant the aged Simeon saw in him the "light" coming "for revelation to the Gentiles," as Isaiah's prophecy had foretold (cf. Is 42:6). Christ opened the way for people to attain to the universality of the new People of God, as St. Paul writes: "For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity" (Eph 2:14). "There is neither Jew nor Greek...for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). The Apostle Paul was the principal spokesman of the universal extension of the People of God. Especially from his teaching and action, derived from that of Jesus himself, the Church reached the firm conviction that in Jesus Christ all are called, without distinction of nation, language or culture. As the Second Vatican Council says, the messianic people which is born of the Gospel and redemption through the cross, is a firmissimum germen ("most firm seed") of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race (cf. LG 9).

Enlightened from on high, the affirmation of this universality of the People of God of the new covenant coincides with the aspirations and efforts with which, especially in our day, people seek unity and peace, working most of all in the domain of international life and its vital institutions. Because of her very vocation and original mission the Church cannot fail to be involved in this historic moment.

4. In fact, the Council continues by stating that the messianic people, the Church, "established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and also used by him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-16)" (LG 9). This openness to the whole world, to all peoples and to everything human, belongs to the Church's nature. It flows from the universality of the redemption earned through Christ's cross and resurrection (cf. Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15). It finds its consecration on Pentecost in the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and the Jerusalem community, the Church's first nucleus. Since that time the Church has always been aware of the universal call to all people to be part of the people of the new covenant.

5. God has called the entire community of those who look with faith upon Jesus, author of salvation and source of peace and unity, to be part of his people. This "community which has been called" is the Church, established that "for each and all it may be the visible sacrament of this saving unity. While it transcends all limits of time and confines of race, the Church is destined to extend to all regions of the earth and so enters into the history of mankind" (LG 9). The Council's teaching continues: "Israel according to the flesh, which wandered as an exile in the desert, was already called the Church of God (Neh 13:1; cf. Num 20:4; Dt 23:1ff.). Likewise the new Israel which while living in this present age goes in search of a future and abiding city (cf. Heb 13:14) is called the Church of Christ (cf. Mt 16:18). For he has bought it for himself with his blood (cf. Acts 20:28), has filled it with his Spirit and provided it with those means which befit it as a visible and social union" (LG 9).

The Church's universality therefore corresponds to the transcendent plan of God, who works in human history through his mercy, willing "everyone to be saved" (1 Tim 2:4).

6. From the beginning God the Father's saving will has been the reason and purpose for the Church's activity in response to her vocation to be the messianic people of the new covenant, with a dynamism that is open to universality. Jesus himself indicated this in the mandate and assurance he gave to Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle to the Gentiles: "I shall deliver you from this people and from the Gentiles to whom I send you, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may obtain forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been consecrated by faith in me" (Acts 26:17-18).

7. The New Covenant to which humanity is called is also an eternal covenant (cf. Heb 13:20) and therefore the messianic people is marked by an eschatological vocation. This is attested to especially in the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, which highlights the universal nature of a Church extended in time and, beyond time, into eternity. In the great heavenly vision which follows the letters addressed to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation, the Lamb is solemnly praised because he was sacrificed and with his blood he purchased for God "those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation" and made them a kingdom of priests for our God (cf. Rev 5:9-10). In a later vision John sees "a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne [of God] and before the Lamb" (Rev 7:9). The earthly Church and the heavenly one; the Church of the apostles and their successors and the Church of the blessed; the Church of the children of God in time and eternity--it is the single reality of the messianic people which extends beyond all limits of space and historical time, in accord with the divine plan of salvation which is mirrored in her catholicity."

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

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je salue cordialement les personnes de langue française présentes à cette audience, en particulier les pèlerins du lycée francohellénique d’Athènes. Je vous souhaite à tous de découvrir les merveilles de Rome et de rentrer chez vous fortifiés dans la foi, l’espérance et la charité. Je demande à Dieu de vous combler de ses bénédictions.

Ai fedeli di espressione linguistica inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a special greeting to the crew of Her Majesty’s Ship Scylla, and to a group of officers of the United States Mediterranean Fleet and members of their families. I also greet the members of the World and Italian Councils of the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association. Upon all the English-speaking visitors here today I invoke God’s abundant blessings.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung richte ich einen herzlichen Willkommensgruß an alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Mein besonderer Gruß gilt einer Gruppe von Priestern aus verschiedenen Pfarreien Deutschlands, den Teilnehmern der Studienreise der Katholischen Akademie Hamburg sowie den anwesenden Mitgliedern der Schönstattbewegung.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat und all den Gläubigen, die uns über Radio und Fernsehen verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Amados Irmãos e Irmãs,
queridos peregrinos de língua portuguesa,

Com menção particular para o grupo de Servitas com o Reitor do Santuário de Fátima: agradeço-vos a vossa vinda aqui, como também o acolhimento que me prestastes quando para ali me dirigi, peregrino em romagem de gratidão à Bendita Mãe que me salvou a vida. Oferecestes os vossos préstimos a Nossa Senhora que escolheu esse lugar para chamar a humanidade ao seu Deus: sede corajosos, disponíveis e inventivos no aplanar e anunciar os caminhos do Evangelho aos homens, na sua busca e regresso a Deus seu Pai. Acompanha-vos a minha Bênção que afectuosamente estendo a todos os Servidores do Santuário e a quantos vos são queridos, esperando que continuareis a recomendar toda a Igreja e a Mim próprio à Virgem Mãe.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Pozdrawiam serdecznie wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski, a przede wszystkim księży biskupów z Koszalina, z Krakowa i z Łomży; pielgrzymki: z diecezji częstochowskiej, z parafii św. Mikołaja w Zamościu; członów Legionu Maryi i wiernych z parafii w Końskowoli; rolników z diecezji siedleckiej; pielgrzymki: z parafii św. Mikołaja z Warty, z parafii bł. Rafała Kalinowskiego z Ełku, z parafii Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa ze Susa, z diecezji koszalińsko-kołobrzeskiej, z Trzebiatowa w diecezji szczecińsko-kamieńskiej; pracowników budowy Centrum Dialogu i Karmelu w Oświęcimiu; pielgrzymkę karmelitańską z Czernej i z Krakowa; grupę harcerzy z jachtu “Dar Śląska”; grupy turystyczne: “Quo vadis” z Krosna i “Orbis” z Warszawy oraz innych, nie objętych tymi grupami pielgrzymów z kraju i z emigracji; a także pielgrzymki: ojców karmelitów z Zawoi, z parafii św. Jana Chrzciciela ze Zgorzelca; grupę turystyczną “Voyager”; męski chór górniczy z Lubina; “Automobilclub” z Kielc; kolejarzy z Krakowa oraz “Esperantour” z Kłodzka. Jeszcze raz wszystkich serdecznie pozdrawiam.

Ai fedeli italiani

Il mio saluto ora va a tutti i pellegrini italiani, presenti a questa Udienza, e in particolare al gruppo dei Missionari e delle Missionarie della Casetta di Nazaret, che ricordano l’anniversario della mia sosta a Casapesenna, nel Santuario della Vergine, invocata col nome di “Mia Madonna, Mia Salvezza”.

Saluto la Madre Fondatrice della Congregazione ed auguro che il fervore missionario non venga mai meno nell’intera Famiglia religiosa. A tutti ricordo che “chi ha spirito missionario sente l’ardore di Cristo per le anime ed ama la Chiesa come Cristo” (Ioannis Pauli PP. II, Redemptoris missio, 89).

Rivolgo poi il mio pensiero al gruppo dei Padri Carmelitani, che partecipano ad un Congresso del loro Ordine, esortandoli a conservare sempre viva la grande tradizione del Carmelo e a diffondere la conoscenza della vita ascetica e mistica, secondo i princìpi dei Maestri di spiritualità carmelitana. Vi conforti sempre la Vergine Maria, “Decor Carmeli”. Infine saluto il gruppo dei ragazzi di Tirrenia (Pisa), che, pur giovanissimi, si educano diligentemente al rispetto delle norme della circolazione stradale e della natura.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Ed ora porgo a voi, carissimi Giovani, Ammalati e Sposi Novelli il mio saluto, lieto per la vostra presenza, cordialità ed attenzione!

Vi esorto al costante impegno nella preghiera, nella carità reciproca, nella pazienza, ricordando quanto scriveva San Paolo ai Romani: “ciascuno dovrà rendere conto a Dio di se stesso” (Rm 14, 12).

Ricordatelo voi, giovani, perché il tempo che vi è donato possa essere un tempo in cui si costruisce la propria santificazione.

Ricordatelo anche voi, ammalati, per essere sempre consapevoli che la sofferenza non è dimenticata da Dio.

Voi, Sposi novelli, sappiate trasmettere all’intera famiglia la costante tensione verso la meta del cielo, che è fine ultimo di ogni esistenza.

A tutti la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Accorato appello per la pace in Croazia

Cari fedeli della Croazia. Vi saluto tutti di cuore!

Le notizie dolorose che provengono quotidianamente dalla vostra patria continuano a rattristare profondamente il mio cuore. Il grido di dolore e di paura che si eleva dalla Croazia non può e non deve lasciare indifferente alcun cristiano o uomo di buona volontà.

Negli ultimi giorni vi sono stati attacchi di inaudita violenza in tutta la Croazia, ma in particolare contro Dubrovnik e Vukovar. A Dubrovnik sono stati colpiti, tra l’altro, alberghi ed ospedali affollati di rifugiati e di feriti. È un’aggressione che deve terminare!

Unisco la mia voce di condanna e di implorazione a quella di tanta gente che soffre e che muore e alla voce di quanti, nel mondo, deplorano con orrore le atrocità della guerra in Croazia. Supplico l’esercito federale jugoslavo di risparmiare la vita di inermi civili e di frenare la furia distruttrice di abitazioni private ed edifici pubblici, alcuni dei quali di inestimabile valore artistico.

La comunità internazionale non può accettare che la violenza diventi il mezzo per affrontare i contenziosi tra i popoli, che siano costantemente calpestate le norme elementari di condotta, sancite anche da accordi e convenzioni internazionali. Occorre porre fine ad una tale tragedia, che disonora l’Europa e il mondo!

Dio onnipotente doni a tutti la sua pace e la sua benedizione.

Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!

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