By Deborah Castellano Lubov

“I ask Saint Catherine to protect Italy during this pandemic; and to protect Europe, because she is a Patroness of Europe; may she protect the whole of Europe, so that it remains united.”

Pope Francis made this appeal at this morning’s General Audience on the saint’s Feast Day of April 29, in the Library of the Apostolic Vatican Palace.

Taking up the series of catecheses on the Beatitudes, in his address in Italian the Pope focused his meditation on the eighth and last, entitled: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:10).

“Today,” the Pope recalled in his Italian greetings, “we celebrate the feast of Saint Catherine of Siena, Co-Patroness of Italy.”

He applauded that “this great figure of woman drew from communion with Jesus the courage of action and that inexhaustible hope that sustained her in the most difficult hours, also when everything seemed lost, and enabled her to influence others, also at the highest civil and ecclesiastical levels with the strength of her faith.”

“May her example,” he prayed, “help each one to know how to unite with Christian coherence, an intense love of the Church to an effective solicitude in favour of the civil community, especially in this time of trial.”

“I ask Saint Catherine,” Pope Francis appealed, “to protect Italy during this pandemic; and to protect Europe, because she is a Patroness of Europe; may she protect the whole of Europe, so that it remains united.”

The Holy Father also extended a special thought to young people, the elderly, the sick and newlyweds. “I exhort all to be witnesses of the Risen Christ, who shows the now glorious wounds of His Passion to the disciples. I bless you from my heart,” he said.

After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to the faithful. The Audience ended with the recitation of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.

Here is a full translation of the Pope’s words at today’s General Audience:

* * *

The Holy Father’s Catechesis

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

With today’s Audience, we conclude the course on the evangelical Beatitudes. As we heard, proclaimed in the last is the eschatological joy of the persecuted for righteousness’ sake. This Beatitude announces the same happiness of the first: the Kingdom of Heaven is of the persecuted as it is of the poor in spirit; thus we understand we have arrived at the end of a unitary course unravelled in previous announcements.

Poverty of spirit, weeping, meekness, thirst for holiness, mercy, purification of heart and works of peace can lead to persecution because of Christ; however, in the end this persecution is cause of joy and of great reward in Heaven. The way of the Beatitudes is a paschal way, which leads from a life according to the world to that according to God, from an existence guided by the flesh — namely selfishness — to that guided by the Spirit. The world, with its idols, its compromises and its priorities, can’t approve this type of existence. The “structures of sin,”[1]often produced by the human mentality, so foreign as they are to the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot receive (Cf. John 14:17), they cannot but reject poverty or meekness or purity and declare life according to the Gospel as an error and a problem, hence as something to marginalize. So thinks the world: “These are idealists or fanatics . . . they think.

If the world lives according to money, anyone who demonstrates that life can be fulfilled in gift and renunciation becomes an annoyance for the system of greed. This word “annoyance” is key, because Christian witness alone, — which has done so much good to so many people because they follow it –, annoys those that have a worldly mentality. They live it as a rebuke. When holiness appears and the life of the children of God emerges, in that beauty there is something uncomfortable that calls for a taking of positions: either to let oneself be questioned or to open oneself to the good, or to reject that light and harden the heart, also to open to opposition and to fury (Cf. Wisdom 2:14-15). It’s curious: one’s attraction is drawn to see how, in the persecution of martyrs, hostility grows to fury against Christians, against Christian witness and against the heroism of Christians. However, this shows that the tragedy of persecution is also the place of liberation from subjection to success, to vainglory and to the world’s compromises. Of what does one rejoice who has rejected the world because of Christ? One rejoices for having found something that is worth more than the whole world. In fact, “What does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mark 8:36). What profit is there?

It is painful to remember that, in this moment, there are many Christians that suffer persecution in various areas of the world, and we must hope and pray their tribulation ceases as soon as possible. They are so many; the martyrs of today are more than the martyrs of the first centuries. We express our closeness to these brothers and sisters: we are one body, and these Christians are bloodied members of the Body of Christ that is the Church.

However, we must be careful not to read this Beatitude in a self-pitying, self-commiserating key. In fact, men’s contempt is not always synonymous of persecution: in fact shortly after Jesus says that Christians are the “salt of the earth,” He puts us on guard of the danger of “losing its taste, otherwise it ”is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men” (Matthew 5:13). Hence, there is a contempt that is our own fault, when we lose the taste of Christ and of the Gospel.

It is necessary to be faithful to the humble way of the Beatitudes, because it’s what leads to be of Christ and not of the world. It’s worthwhile to remember Saint Paul’s story: when he thought he was righteous he was, in fact, a persecutor; however, when he discovered he was a persecutor, he became a man of love, who happily faced the sufferings of persecution that he endured (Cf. Colossians 1:24). Exclusion and persecution, if God gives us the grace, make us like Christ crucified and, by associating us to His Passion, they are the manifestation of the new life. This life is the same as Christ’s, who for us men and for our salvation was “despised and rejected by men” (Cf. Isaiah 53:3; Acts 8:30-35). To receive His Spirit can lead us to have such love in our heart as to offer our life for the world without making compromises with its deceits and accepting its rejection. Compromises with the world are the danger: a Christian is always tempted to make compromises with the world, with the spirit of the world. This — to reject compromises and go on the way of Jesus Christ — is the life of the Kingdom of Heaven, the greatest joy — true happiness. And then, in persecutions there is always the presence of Jesus who accompanies us, the presence of Jesus who consoles us and the strength of the Spirit who helps us to go on. Let us not be discouraged when a life coherent with the Gospel attracts the persecutions of the people: there is the Spirit that sustains us on this way.

[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

In Italian

I greet the Italian-speaking faithful. Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Catherine of Siena, Co-Patroness of Italy. This great figure of woman drew from communion with Jesus the courage of action and that inexhaustible hope that sustained her in the most difficult hours, also when everything seemed lost, and enabled her to influence others, also at the highest civil and ecclesiastical levels with the strength of her faith. May her example help each one to know how to unite with Christian coherence, an intense love of the Church to an effective solicitude in favour of the civil community, especially in this time of trial. I ask Saint Catherine to protect Italy during this pandemic; and to protect Europe, because she is a Patroness of Europe; may she protect the whole of Europe, so that it remains united.

A special thought goes to young people, the elderly, the sick and newlyweds. I exhort all to be witnesses of the Risen Christ, who shows the now glorious wounds of His Passion to the disciples. I bless you from my heart.

[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

[1] Address to the Participants in the Workshop “New Ways of Solidary Fraternity, of Inclusion, Integration and Innovation,” February 5, 2020: “The Idolatry of Money, Greed, Corruption Are All ‘Structures of Sin’ — as John Paul II defined them — produced by the “Globalization of Indifference.’”

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