Pope Francis Encourages "...welcoming the other: let us not forget that "grace presupposes culture, and the gift of God is incarnated in the culture of..." FULL TEXT + Video in Greece


TO CYPRUS AND GREECE - (December 2-6, 2021)



Athens Cathedral of Saint Dionysius
Saturday, December 4, 2021

Dear brother Bishops,
dear priests
men and women religious, seminarians, dear brothers and sisters, kalispera sas! [Good evening!]

I sincerely thank you for your welcome and for the words of greeting that Mons. Rossolatos addressed to me. And thank you, Sister, for your testimony: it is important that men and women religious live their service in this spirit, with a passionate love that makes itself a gift for the community to which they are sent. Thanks! Thanks also to Rokos for the beautiful testimony of faith lived in the family, in daily life, together with the children who, like many young people, at a certain point ask themselves questions, question themselves, about some things they become a bit critical.   

 But that's okay too, because it helps us as a Church to reflect and change.

I am happy to meet you in a land that is a gift, a heritage of humanity on which the foundations of the West have been built. We are all children and debtors of your country: without the poetry, literature, philosophy and art that have developed here, we would not be able to know many facets of human existence, nor to satisfy many inner questions about life, about love, about pain and even about death.

In the bed of this rich heritage, a "laboratory" for the inculturation of the faith was inaugurated here at the beginning of Christianity, managed by the wisdom of many Fathers of the Church, who with their holy conduct of life and their writings represent a beacon bright for believers of all ages. But if we ask ourselves who inaugurated the encounter between early Christianity and Greek culture, our thoughts can only go to the Apostle Paul. It is he who opened the "laboratory of faith", who synthesized those two worlds. And he did right here, as told Acts of the Apostles: arrives in Athens, he began to preach in the streets and the scholars of the time they lead the Areopagus (cf. Acts17,16-34), which was the council of elders, of the wise who judged matters of public interest. Let us pause on this episode and allow ourselves to be guided, in our journey of the Church, by two attitudes of the Apostle useful for our current elaboration of the faith .

The first attitude is trust . While Paul preached, some philosophers begin to wonder what this "charlatan" wants to teach (v. 18). They call him that, charlatan: one who invents things by taking advantage of the good faith of those who listen to him. Therefore they lead him to the Areopagus. Therefore we must not imagine that the curtain of a stage is opened for him. On the contrary, they bring him there to question him: “May we know what this new doctrine you announce? Strange things, in fact, you put in our ears; we therefore wish to know what it is about "(vv. 19-20). In short, Paul is put on the ropes.

These circumstances of his mission in Greece are also important to us today. The Apostle is on the corner. A short time before, in Thessalonica, he had been hindered in his preaching and, due to the riots caused in the people to accuse him of causing disturbances, he had had to flee at night. Now, having arrived in Athens, he is taken for a charlatan and, as an unwelcome guest, taken to the Areopagus. He is therefore not experiencing a triumphant moment; he is carrying out the mission in a difficult condition. Perhaps, in many moments of our journey, we too feel the fatigue and sometimes the frustration of being a small community, or a Church with few forces that moves in a context that is not always favorable. Meditate on the story of Paul in Athens. He was alone, in the minority and with little chance of success. But he did not allow himself to be overcome by discouragement, he did not give up on the mission. And he was not tempted to complain. This is very important: beware of complaints. Here is the attitude of the true apostle: to go forward with confidence,preferring the restlessness of unexpected situations to habit and repetition . Paolo has this courage. Where did it come from? From trust in God. His is the courage of trust: trust in the greatness of God, who always loves to work in our littleness.

Dear brothers and sisters, we have confidence, because being a small Church makes us an eloquent sign of the Gospel, of the God announced by Jesus who chooses the little ones and the poor, who changes history with the simple deeds of the humble. We, as a Church, are not required to have the spirit of conquest and victory, the magnificence of large numbers, the worldly splendor. This is all dangerous. It is the temptation of triumphalism. We are asked to take our cue from the mustard seed, which is lowest, but humbly and slowly grows: "it is the smallest of all seeds - says Jesus - but, once it grows, it becomes a tree" ( Mt13:32) We are asked to be leaven, which ferments in patient and silent concealment within the dough of the world, thanks to the incessant work of the Holy Spirit (cf. v. 33). The secret of the Kingdom of God is contained in small things, in what is often not seen and does not make noise. The Apostle Paul, whose name recalls littleness, lives in trust because he welcomed these words of the Gospel into his heart, so much so that he made them a teaching for the brothers of Corinth: "What is weakness of God is stronger than men"; "That which is weak for the world, God has chosen to confound the strong" ( 1 Cor 1: 25.27).

So, dear friends, I would like to tell you: bless the smallness and welcome it. It disposes you to trust in God and in God alone. Being a minority - and in the whole world the Church is a minority - does not mean being insignificant , but walking the path opened by the Lord, which is that of littleness: of kenosis , of abasement , of condescension, of the synkatábasis of God in Jesus Christ. He came down to hide in the folds of humanity and the wounds of our flesh. He saved us by serving us. In fact - Paul affirms - "emptied himself by assuming the condition of a servant" ( Phil2.7). Many times we are obsessed with appearance, with visibility, but "the Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to attract attention" ( Lk 17:20). It comes secretly, like rain, slowly, on the earth. Let us help ourselves to renew this trust in God's work, and not to lose the enthusiasm of service. Courage, forward on this path of humility, of littleness!

I would now like to underline a second attitude of Paul to the Athens Areopagus: hospitalityIt is the interior disposition necessary for evangelization: not wanting to occupy the space and life of the other, but to sow the good news in the soil of his existence, learning first of all to welcome and recognize the seeds that God has already placed in his heart, before our arrival. Let us remember: God always precedes us, God always precedes our sowing. Evangelizing is not filling an empty container, it is first of all bringing to light what God has already begun to accomplish. And this is the extraordinary pedagogy demonstrated by the Apostle before the Athenians. He does not tell them "you are doing everything wrong" or "now I am teaching you the truth", but he begins by welcoming their religious spirit: «Athenians, I see that, in everything, you are very religious. In fact, passing by and observing your sacred monuments,At17.22-23). It takes a wealth of the Athenians. The Apostle recognizes dignity to his interlocutors and welcomes their religious sensitivity. Even if the streets of Athens were full of idols, which had made him "tremble within himself" (cf. v. 16), Paul welcomes the desire for God hidden in the hearts of those people and with kindness wants to give them the amazement of faith. His style is not imposing, but proactive. It is not based on proselytism - never! -, but on the meekness of Jesus. And this is possible because Paul has a spiritual gaze on reality: he believes that the Holy Spirit works in the heart of man, beyond religious labels. We have heard this from Rokos' testimony. The children at some point move away from religious practice a little, but the Holy Spirit had worked and continues to work, and so they strongly believe in unity, in fraternity with others. The Spirit always works beyond what you see on the outside, let's remember! The attitude of the apostle of all times therefore begins with welcoming the other: let us not forget that "grace presupposes culture, and the gift of God is incarnated in the culture of those who receive it" ( Evangelii gaudium , 115). There is no abstract grace spinning over our heads; grace is always embodied in a culture, it is embodied there.

Speaking of Paul's visit to the Areopagus,  Benedict XVI said that agnostic or atheist people must be very important to us, but that we must be careful because “when we talk about a new evangelization, these people are perhaps frightened. They do not want to see themselves as an object of mission, nor to give up their freedom of thought and will ”( Address to the Roman Curia , 21 December 2009). Today too we are required to have an attitude of welcome, a style of hospitality, a heart animated by the desire to create communion between human, cultural or religious differences. The challenge is to develop the passion for the whole, which leads us - Catholics, Orthodox, brothers and sisters of other creeds, even agnostic brothers, all - to listen to each other, to dream and work together, to cultivate the "mystique" of fraternity (cf. Evangelii gaudium , 87). Past history still remains an open wound on the path of this welcoming dialogue, but let us courageously embrace today's challenge!

Dear brothers and sisters, Saint Paul, here on Greek soil, showed his serene trust in God and this made him welcoming to the Areopagites who suspected him. With these two attitudes he announced that God who was unknown to his interlocutors. And he came to present the face of a God who in Jesus Christ sowed the seed of the resurrection in the heart of the world, the universal right to hope, which is a human right, the right to hope. When Paul announces this good news, most of them laugh at him and leave. However, "some joined him and became believers: among these also Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, a woman named Dàmaris and others with them" ( Acts17.34). The majority leave; a small remnant joins Paul, including Dionysius, after whom this Cathedral is named! It is a small remnant, but this is how God weaves the threads of history, from then until you today. I sincerely wish you to continue the work in your historic laboratory of faith, and to do it with these two ingredients, with trust and acceptance , to enjoy the Gospel as an experience of joy and also as an experience of fraternity. I carry you with me in affection and in prayer. And you, please, don't forget to pray for me. O Theós na sas evloghi ! [God bless you!]

 FULL TEXT Source: Vatican.va - Image Screenshot - Translation from Italian