Apostolic zeal

Pope Francis          

16.05.13  Holy Mass  Santa Marta  

Acts  22: 3023: 6-11 

With our witness to the truth, Christians must cause discomfort in “our comfortable structures”, even to the point of ending up “in trouble”, because we must be enlivened by “a healthy spiritual craziness” in all “outskirts of existence”. Following the example of St Paul, who “fought one battle after another”, believers must not retreat “to a relaxed life. Today there are “too many arm-chair Christians”, those who are “lukewarm”, people for whom “everything goes well”, but who do not have “inner apostolic ardour.

It is “Paul who causes discomfort”. Paul was a man, who through his teaching and his attitude caused great discomfort because he proclaimed Jesus Christ. And the message of Jesus Christ makes our comfortable structures, even Christian ones, uncomfortable.

May the Holy Spirit give to all of us apostolic fervour; may he also give us the grace to feel uncomfortable about certain aspects of the Church which are too relaxed; the grace to go forward to the existential outskirts. The Church is in great need of this! Not only in far away lands, in young Churches, to peoples who do not yet know Jesus Christ. But here in the city, right in the city, we need Jesus Christ’s message. We thus ask the Holy Spirit for this grace of apostolic zeal: be Christians with apostolic zeal. And if we make others uncomfortable, blessed be the Lord. Let’s go, and as the Lord says to Paul: ‘take courage!’ 


Pope Francis          

15.06.13 Holy Mass  Santa Marta     

2 Corinthians 5: 14-21

Christ’s love possesses us, impels us, drives us on. This speed is Paul in fourth gear: when he sees Christ’s love he cannot stand still.

In this passage the word ‘reconciliation’, is repeated five times, like a refrain, to say clearly: God reconciled us to him in Christ. St Paul also speaks with both force and tenderness when he says: I am an ambassador for Christ. Paul seems to fall to his knees to implore: We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God, as if he had said lower your guard to let yourselves be reconciled to God.

Paul’s hurrying reminds me of Mary setting out with haste to help her cousin. This is the haste of the Christian message.... Here the message is, precisely, reconciliation. True reconciliation is that in Christ God took our sins upon his own shoulders and for our sake made himself sin.

This is the mystery that motivated Paul with apostolic zeal, for it is such a marvellous thing: the love of God who, for me, handed his Son over to be killed. When Paul is confronted by this truth he says: but he loved me, he died for my sake. This is the mystery of reconciliation!

Christian peace is a restive not a torpid peace. Christian peace impels us and this is the beginning, the root of apostolic zeal. The love of Christ possesses us, impels us, urges us on with the emotion we feel when we see that God loves us.


Pope Francis          

11.01.23 General Audience, Paul VI Audience Hall

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: The believer's apostolic zeal. The call to the apostolate (Mt 9:9-13)   

Matthew 9: 9-13

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today we begin a new cycle of catechesis, dedicated to an urgent and decisive theme for Christian life: the passion for evangelisation, that is, apostolic zeal. It is a vital dimension for the Church: the community of Jesus' disciples is in fact born apostolic, born missionary, not proselytizing. And from the start we have to distinguish: being missionary, being apostolic, evangelizing, is not the same as proselytizing, they have nothing to do with one another. It concerns a vital dimension for the Church. The community of the disciples of Jesus is born apostolic and missionary. The Holy Spirit moulds it outwardly – the Church moves out, that goes out – so that it is not closed in on itself, but turned outward, a contagious witness of Jesus – the faith is also contagious – reaching out to radiate His light to the ends of the earth. It can happen, however, that the apostolic ardour, the desire to reach others with the good news of the Gospel, diminishes, becomes tepid. Sometimes it seems to be eclipsed; there are “closed-off” Christians, they don’t think of others. But when Christian life loses sight of the horizon of evangelization, horizon of proclamation, it grows sick: it closes in on itself, becomes self-referential, it becomes atrophied. Without apostolic zeal, faith withers. Mission, on the other hand, is the oxygen of Christian life: it invigorates and purifies it. Let us embark, then, on a process of rediscovering the evangelising passion, starting with the Scriptures and the Church's teaching, to draw apostolic zeal from its sources. Then we will approach some living sources, some witnesses who have rekindled within the Church the passion for the Gospel, so that they may help us to rekindle the fire that the Holy Spirit wants to keep burning within us.

And today I would like to begin with a somewhat emblematic Gospel episode; we just heard it, the call of the Apostle Matthew. And he himself tells the story in his Gospel, which we have heard (cf. 9:9-13).

It all begins with Jesus, who, the text says, “sees a man.” Few people saw Matthew as he was: they knew him as the one who was “sitting at the tax booth” (v. 9). He was, in fact, a tax collector: that is, someone who collected taxes on behalf of the Roman empire that occupied Palestine. In other words, he was a collaborator, a traitor to the people. We can imagine the contempt the people felt for him: he was a “publican,” as they were called. But in the eyes of Jesus, Matthew is a man, with both his miseries and his greatness. Be aware of this: Jesus does not stop at the adjective – Jesus always seeks out the noun. “This person is a sinner, he’s that kind of person…” these are adjectives: Jesus goes to the person, to the heart, “This is a person, this is a man, this is a woman.” Jesus goes to the subject, the noun, never the adjective, He leaves aside the adjectives. And while there is distance between Matthew and his people – because they see the adjective, “publican” – Jesus draws near to Him, because every man is loved by God. “Even this wretch?” Yes, even this wretch. Indeed, the Gospel says He came for this very wretch: “I have come for sinners, not for the righteous.” This gaze of Jesus is really beautiful. It sees the other, whoever he may be, as the recipient of love, is the beginning of the evangelising passion. Everything starts from this gaze, which we learn from Jesus.

We can ask ourselves: how do we look upon others? How often do we see their faults and not their needs; how often do we label people according to what they do or what they think! Even as Christians we say to ourselves: is he one of us or not? This is not the gaze of Jesus: He always looks at each person with mercy and indeed with predilection. And Christians are called to do as Christ did, looking like Him especially at the so-called “distant ones.” Indeed, Matthew's account of the call ends with Jesus saying, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 13). And if any one of us considers themselves righteous, Jesus is far away. He draws near to our limitations, to our miseries, to heal them.

It all starts, then, with the gaze of Jesus. “He sees a man,” Matthew. This is followed - second step - by a movement. First the gaze: Jesus sees. Second, movement. Matthew was sitting at the tax office; Jesus said to him: “Follow me.” And “ he rose and followed Him” (v. 9). We note that the text emphasises that “he rose.” Why is this detail so important? Because in those days he who was seated had authority over the others, who stood before him to listen to him or, as in that case, to pay tribute. He who sat, in short, had power. The first thing Jesus does is to detach Matthew from power: from sitting to receive others, He sets him in motion towards others, not receiving, no: he goes out to others. He makes him leave a position of supremacy in order to put him on an equal footing with his brothers and sisters and open to him the horizons of service. This is what Christ does, and this is fundamental for Christians: do we disciples of Jesus, we Church, sit around waiting for people to come, or do we know how to get up, to set out with others, to seek others? Saying, “But let them come to me, I am here, let them come,” is a non-Christian position. No, you go to seek them out, you take the first step.

A look – Jesus sees; a movement – “he rose”; and third, a destination. After getting up and following Jesus, where will Matthew go? We might imagine that, having changed the man’s life, the Master would lead him to new encounters, new spiritual experiences. No, or at least not immediately. First, Jesus goes to his home; there Matthew prepares “a great feast” for Him, in which “a large crowd of tax collectors” – that is, people like him – takes part (Lk 5:29). Matthew returns to his environment, but he returns there changed and with Jesus. His apostolic zeal does not begin in a new, pure, place, an ideal place, far away, but instead he begins there where he lives, with the people he knows. Here is the message for us: we do not have to wait until we are perfect and have come a long way following Jesus to bear witness to Him, no. Our proclamation begins today, there where we live. And it does not begin by trying to convince others, no, not to convince: by bearing every day to the beauty of the Love that has looked upon us and lifted us up. And it is this beauty, communicating this beauty that will convince people – not communicating ourselves but the Lord Himself. We are the ones who proclaim the Lord, we don’t proclaim ourselves, we don’t proclaim a political party, an ideology. No: we proclaim Jesus. We need to put Jesus in contact with the people, without convincing them but allowing the Lord do the convincing. For as Pope Benedict taught us, “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by ‘attraction’” (Homily at the Mass for the Inauguration of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, Aparecida, 13 May 2007). Don’t forget this: when you see Christians proselytising, making a list of people to come... these are not Christians, they are pagans disguised as Christians, but the heart is pagan. The Church grows not by proselytism, it grows by attraction.

I remember once, in a hospital in Buenos Aires, the women religious who worked there left because they were too few, and they couldn’t run the hospital. And a community of sisters from Korea came. And they arrived, let's say on a Monday for example (I don't remember the day). They took possession of the sisters’ house in the hospital and on Tuesday they came down to visit the sick in the hospital, but they didn't speak a word of Spanish. They only spoke Korean and the patients were happy, because they commented: “Well done! These nuns, bravo, bravo!” “But what did the sister say to you?” “Nothing, but with her gaze she spoke to me, they communicated Jesus,” not themselves, with their gaze, with their gestures. To communicate Jesus, not ourselves: This is attraction, the opposite of proselytism.

This attractive witness, this joyful witness is the goal to which Jesus leads us with His loving gaze and with the outgoing movement that His Spirit raises up in our hearts. And we can consider whether our gaze resembles that of Jesus, to attract the people, to bring them closer to the Church. Let’s think about that.


Pope Francis


29.03.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 9. Witnesses: Saint Paul. 1  

Galatians  1: 22-24

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In the path of catechesis on apostolic zeal, let us start today to look at some figures who, in different ways and times, bore exemplary witness to what passion for the Gospel means. And the first witness is naturally the Apostle Paul. I would like to devote these two catecheses to him.

And the history of Paul of Tarsus is emblematic in this regard. In the first chapter of the Letter to the Galatians, as in the narration of the Acts of the Apostles, we can see that his zeal for the Gospel appears after his conversion, and takes the place of his previous zeal for Judaism. He was a man who was zealous about the law of Moses for Judaism, and after his conversion, this zeal continued, but to proclaim, to preach Jesus Christ. Paul loved Jesus. Saul – Paul’s first name – was already zealous, but Christ converts his zeal: from the Law to the Gospel. His zeal first wanted to destroy the Church, whereas after it builds it up. We might ask ourselves: what happened, that passed from destruction to construction? What changed in Paul? In what way was his zeal, his striving for the glory of God, transformed? What happened there?

Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that passion, from the moral point of view, is neither good nor evil: its virtuous use makes it morally good, sin makes it bad.[1] In Paul’s case, what changed him is not a simple idea or a conviction: it was the encounter, this word, it was the encounter with the risen Lord – do not forget this, it is the encounter with the Lord that changes a life – it was the encounter with the risen Lord that transformed his entire being. Paul’s humanity, his passion for God and his glory was not annihilated, but transformed, “converted” by the Holy Spirit. The only one who can change our hearts, change, is the Holy Spirit. And it was so for every aspect of his life. Just as it happens in the Eucharist: the bread and wine do not disappear, but become the Body and Blood of Christ. Paul’s zeal remains, but it becomes the zeal of Christ. It changes direction but the zeal is the same. The Lord is served with our humanity, with our prerogatives and our characteristics, but what changes everything is not an idea, but rather the very life itself, as Paul himself says: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” – it changes you from within, the encounter with Jesus Christ changes you from within, it makes you another person – “the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). If one is in Christ, he or she is a new creation, this is the meaning of being a new creation. Becoming Christian is not a masquerade, that changes your face, no! If you are Christian, your heart is changed, but if you are a Christian in appearance, this will not do: masquerading Christians, no, they will not do. The true change is of the heart. And this happened to Paul.

The passion for the Gospel is not a matter of comprehension or studies – you can study all the theology you want, you can study the Bible and all that, and become atheist or worldly, it is not a question of studies; in history there have been many atheist theologians, no! Study is useful but it does not generate the new life of grace; rather, to convert means going through that same experience of “fall and resurrection” that Saul/Paul lived and which is at the origin of the transfiguration of his apostolic zeal. Indeed, as Saint Ignatius says: “For it is not knowing much, but realizing and relishing things interiorly, that contents and satisfies”. [2] Every one of us, think. “I am a religious” – “Fine” – “I pray” – “Yes” – “I try to obey the commandments” – “Yes” – “But where is Jesus in your life?” – “Ah, no, I do the things the Church commands”. But Jesus, where is he? Have you encountered Jesus, have you spoken with Jesus? If you pick up the Gospel or talk with Jesus, do you remember who Jesus is?  And this is something that we very often lack; a Christianity, I would say, not without Jesus, but with an abstract Jesus… No! How Jesus entered your life, how he entered the life of Paul, and when Jesus enters, everything changes. Many times, we have heard comments on people: “But look at him, he was a wretch and now he is a good man, she is a good woman… who changed them? Jesus, they found Jesus. Has your Christian life changed? “No, more or less, yes…”. If Jesus did not enter your life, it did not change. You can be Christian only from the outside. No, Jesus must enter and this changes you, and this happened to Paul. It is finding Jesus, and this is why Paul said that Christ’s love drives us, it is what takes you forward. The same thing happened, this change, to all the saints, who went forward when they found Jesus.

We can reflect further on the change that takes place in Paul, who from a persecutor became an apostle of Christ. We note that there is a sort of paradox in him: indeed, as long as he feels he is righteous before God, he feels authorized to persecute, to arrest, even to kill, as in the case of Stephen; but when, enlightened by the Risen Lord, he discovers he was a “blasphemer and persecutor” (cf. 1 Tim 1:13) – this is what he says of himself, “I formerly blasphemed and persecuted” – then he starts to be truly capable of loving. And this is the way. If one of us says, “Ah, thank you Lord, because I am a good person, I do good things, I do not commit major sins…”, this is not a good path, this is the path of self-sufficiency, it is a path that does not justify you, it makes you turn up your nose… It is an elegant Catholic, but an elegant Catholic is not a holy Catholic, he is elegant. The true Catholic, the true Christian is one who receives Jesus within, which changes your heart. This is the question I ask you all today: what does Jesus mean for me? Did I let him enter my heart, or do I keep him within reach but so that he does not really enter within? Have I let myself be changed by him? Or is Jesus just an idea, a theology that goes ahead… And this is zeal, when one finds Jesus and feels the fire, like Paul, and must preach Jesus, must talk about Jesus, must help people, must do good things. When one finds the idea of Jesus, he or she remains an ideologue of Christianity, and this does not justify, only Jesus justifies us. May the Lord help us find Jesus, encounter Jesus, and may this Jesus change our life from within and help us to help others. Thank you.

[1] Cfr  Quaestio “De veritate” 24, 7.

[2]  Spiritual Exercises, Annotations, 2, 4.


Pope Francis

26.04.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 2. Witnesses: monasticism and the power of intercession. Gregory of Narek  

Isaiah 53: 11-12

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Let us continue our catechesis on the witnesses of apostolic zeal. We started with Saint Paul, and last time we looked at the martyrs, who proclaim Jesus with their lives, to the point of giving their lives for Him and for the Gospel. But there is another great witness that runs through the history of faith: that of the nuns and monks, sisters and brothers who renounce themselves and who renounce the world to imitate Jesus on the path of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and to intercede on behalf of all. Their lives speak for themselves, but we might ask: how can people living in monasteries help the proclamation of the Gospel? Wouldn't they do better to put their energies into the mission? Coming out of the monastery and preaching the Gospel, outside … outside the monastery? In reality, the monks are the beating heart of the proclamation. This is curious: they are the beating heart. Their prayer is oxygen for all the members of the Body of Christ, their prayer is the invisible force that sustains the mission. It is no coincidence that the patroness of the missions is a nun, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. Let us listen to how she discovered her vocation – she wrote: “I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was burning with love. I understood it was Love alone that made the Church’s members act, that if Love ever became extinct, apostles would not preach the Gospel and martyrs would not shed their blood. I understood that love comprised all vocations. … Then, in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my Love .... my vocation, at last I have found it.... my vocation is love! … In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be Love” (Autobiographical Manuscript “B”, 8 September 1896). Contemplatives, monks, nuns: people who pray, work, pray, in silence, for all the Church. And this is love: it is the love that is expressed by praying for the Church, working for the Church, in the monasteries.

This love for everyone inspires the life of nuns and monks, and is translated into their prayer of intercession. In this regard, I would like to offer you the example of Saint Gregory of Narek, Doctor of the Church. He is an Armenian monk, who lived around the year 1000, who left a book of prayers, in which the faith of the Armenian people, the first to embrace Christianity, is poured out; a people that, joined to the cross of Christ, has suffered so much throughout history. And Saint Gregory spent almost his entire life in the monastery of Narek. There he learned to peer into the depths of the human soul and, by fusing poetry and prayer together, marked the pinnacle of both Armenian literature and spirituality. What is most striking about him is the universal solidarity of which he is an interpreter. And among monks and nuns there is a universal solidarity: whatever happens in the world, finds a place in the heart, in their heart, and they pray, and they pray. The heart of monks and nuns is a heart that captures like an antenna, it picks up what happens in the world, and prays and intercedes for this. And in this way: they live in union with the Lord and with everyone. And one of them said: “I have voluntarily taken upon myself all faults, from those of the first father down to the last of his descendants, and I have held myself responsible for them”. It is what Jesus did: they take upon themselves the problems of the world, the difficulties, the ailments, many things, and they pray for them. And these are the great evangelizers. Monasteries are … but how can they live closed up, and evangelize? It is true… because with the word, for example,  by intercession and daily work, they are a bridge of intercession for all people and all sins. They weep, even shedding tears, they weep for their sins – after all, we are all sinners – and they also weep for the sins of the world, and they pray and intercede with their hands and heart raised up. Let us think a little of this – if I may permit myself the use of the word – “reserve” that we have in the Church: they are the true strength, the true force that carries the People of God forward, and this is where the habit comes from that people have – the People of God – of saying “Pray for me, pray for me”, when they meet a consecrated man or woman, because they know there is a prayer of intercession. It will do us good – to the extent we are able – to visit a monastery, because there one prays and works. Each one has its own rules, but their hands are always occupied: engaged in work, engaged in prayer. May the Lord give us new monasteries, may he give us new monks and nuns to carry the Church forward with their intercession. Thank you.


Pope Francis

17.05.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 13. Witnesses: Saint Francis Xavier  

2 Corinthians 5: 14-15, 20

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Continuing our itinerary of the Catecheses with some exemplary models of apostolic zeal, today we recall, we are speaking about evangelization, about apostolic zeal, of bearing the name of Jesus. And there are many women and men in history who have done this in an exemplary way. Today, for example, we choose as an example, Saint Francis Xavier, who some say is considered the greatest missionary of modern times. But it is not possible to say who is the greatest, who is the least. There are so many hidden missionaries who, even today, do much more than Saint Francis Xavier. And Saint Francis Xavier is the patron of missions, like Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. And a missionary is great when he or she goes. And there are many, many priests, lay people, women religious who go to the missions…even from Italy. Many of you, I see for example, when a story arrives about a priest who is a candidate to become a bishop, who spent ten years as a missionary in that place. This is incredible – to leave your own country to preach the Gospel. This is apostolic zeal. This is what we really need to cultivate. And looking at these men and women, we learn.

And Saint Francis Xavier was born into a noble but impoverished family in Navarre, northern Spain, in 1506. He went to study in Paris – he was a worldly young man, intelligent, wonderful, worldly. There, he met Ignatius of Loyola. He made the spiritual exercises and changed his life. And he left everything, his worldly career, to become a missionary. He became a Jesuit, took his vows. Then he became a priest, and went to evangelize, sent to the Orient. At that time, the journeys of the missionaries to the Orient meant they were sent to unknown worlds. And he went, because he was filled with apostolic zeal.

He was the first of a numerous band of passionate missionaries to depart, ardent missionaries of modern times, ready to endure immense hardships and dangers, to reach lands and meet peoples from completely unknown cultures and languages, driven only by the powerful desire to make Jesus Christ and his Gospel known.

In just under eleven years, he accomplished an extraordinary task. He was a missionary for more or less eleven years. Journeys at that time were harsh and perilous. Many people died enroute, due to shipwrecks or disease. Today unfortunately, they die because they let them die in the Mediterranean. Francis Xavier spent more than three and a half years on ships, a third of the entire duration of his mission. To get to India, he spent three and a half years on ships; then from India to Japan. How touching.

He arrived in Goa, India, the capital of the Portuguese East, the cultural and commercial capital. And Francis Xavier set up his base, but did not stop there. He went on to evangelize the poor fishermen of the southern coast of India, teaching catechism and prayers to children, baptizing and caring for the sick. Then, while praying one night at the tomb of the apostle Saint Bartholomew, he felt he needed to go beyond India. He left the work he had already initiated in good hands – this is good, organization – and courageously set sail for the Moluccas, the most distant islands of the Indonesian archipelago. There were no horizons for those people, they went beyond… What courage these holy missionaries had! And today’s missionaries too. Of course, they do not spend three months on a ship, but go on a plane for twenty-four hours. But it is the same thing there. They need to settle there, and travel many kilometers and immerse themselves in forests. This is what it is like…. And so, in the Moluccas, he translated the catechism into their local language and taught them how to sing the catechism, he entered through song. We understand his feelings from his letters. He wrote: “Dangers and sufferings, accepted voluntarily and solely for the love and service of God our Lord, are treasures rich in tremendous spiritual consolations. Here, in a few years, someone could lose their eyes from so many tears of joy” (20 January 1548). He cried for joy when beholding God’s work.

One day, in India, he met someone from Japan who spoke to him about his distant country, where no European missionary had ever ventured. Francis Xavier felt a restlessness for the apostolate, to go elsewhere, beyond, and he decided to depart as soon as possible, and arrived there after an adventurous journey on a junk belonging to a Chinese man. His three years in Japan were quite difficult, due to the climate, opposition and his ignorance of the language. Here too, however, the seeds planted would bear great fruit.

A great dreamer, in Japan, he understood that the decisive country for his mission in Asia was another: China. With its culture, its history, its size, it exercised de facto dominance over that part of the world. Even today, China is a cultural center with a vast history, a beautiful history…. So, he returned to Goa, and shortly afterwards embarked again, hoping to enter China. But his plan failed – he died at the gates of China, on an island, the small island of Sancian, in front of the Chinese shoreline, waiting in vain to land on the mainland near Canton. On 3 December 1552, he died in total abandonment, with only a Chinese man standing beside to watch over him. Thus ended the earthly journey of Francis Xavier. He had spent his life zealously in the missions. He left Spain, a highly developed country, and arrived in the most developed country at that time – China – and died at the threshold of great China, accompanied by a Chinese man. It is highly symbolic, highly symbolic.

His intense activity was always joined with prayer, the union with God, mystical and contemplative. He never abandoned prayer because he knew that is where he drew his strength. Wherever he went, he took great care of the sick, the poor and children. He was not an “aristocratic” missionary. He always went with the most in need, the children who were most in need of instruction, of catechesis. The poor, the sick… He specifically went to the “frontiers” when it came to care. And there, he grew in greatness. And the love of Christ was the strength that drove him to the furthest frontiers, with constant toil and danger, overcoming setbacks, disappointments and discouragement; indeed, giving him consolation and joy in following and serving Him to the end.

It is Saint Francis Xavier, who did all these great things, in such poverty, with such courage, who can give us a little bit of this zeal, of this zeal to live for the Gospel, to proclaim the Gospel. So many young people, so many young people today have something…a restlessness…and they do not know what to do with that restlessness. Look to Francis Xavier, look at the horizons of the world, look at the people who are in such need, look at how many people are suffering, so many people who need Jesus. And have the courage to go. Today too, there are courageous young people. I am thinking of the many missionaries, for example, in Papua New Guinea, of my own young friends who are in the diocese of Vanimo, and many others who have gone – young people – to evangelize in the steps of Francis Xavier. May the Lord grant us the joy to evangelize, the joy to bear this message, which is so beautiful, which makes us, and everyone, happy. Thank you!


Pope Francis

24.05.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: The apostolic zeal of the believer. 14. Witnesses: Saint Andrea Kim Tae-gon  

Matthew 10: 24-25, 27

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In this series of catecheses that we are undertaking, we place ourselves in the school of some of the saints who, as exemplary witnesses, teach us apostolic zeal. Let’s recall that we are talking about apostolic zeal, which is what we must have in order to proclaim the Gospel.

Today we are going to find a great example of a saint of the passion for evangelization in a land far away, namely the Korean Church. Let us look at the Korean martyr and first priest St Andrew Kim Tae-gon.

But, the first Korean priest: you know something? The evangelisation of Korea was done by the laity! It was the baptized laity who transmitted the faith, there were no priests, because they had none. Then, later... but the first evangelisation was done by the laity. Would we be capable of something like that? Let’s think about it: it’s interesting. And this is one of the first priests, St Andrew. His life was and remains an eloquent testimony of the proclamation of the Gospel, the zeal for this.

About 200 years ago, the Korean land was the scene of a very severe persecution: Christians were persecuted and annihilated. At that time, believing in Jesus Christ in Korea meant being ready to bear witness even unto death. Specifically from the example of St Andrew Kim, we can draw out two concrete aspects of his life.

The first is the way he used to meet with the faithful. Given the highly intimidating context, the saint was forced to approach Christians in a discreet manner, and always in the presence of other people, as if they had been talking to each other for awhile. Then, to confirm the Christian identity of his interlocutor, St Andrew would implement these devices: first, there was a previously agreed upon sign of recognition: “You will meet with this Christian and he will have this sign on his outfit or in his hand.” “And after that, he would surreptitiously ask the question—but all this under his breath, eh?—“Are you a disciple of Jesus?” Since other people were watching the conversation, the saint had to speak in a low voice, saying only a few words, the most essential ones. So, for Andrew Kim, the expression that summed up the whole identity of the Christian was “disciple of Christ.” “Are you a disciple of Christ?”—but in a soft voice because it was dangerous. It was forbidden to be a Christian there.

Indeed, being a disciple of the Lord means following Him, following His path. And the Christian is by nature one who preaches and bears witness to Jesus. Every Christian community receives this identity from the Holy Spirit, and so does the whole Church, since the day of Pentecost (cf. Conc. Vat. II, Decr. Ad gentes, 2). It is from this Spirit that we receive the passion, the passion for evangelisation, this great apostolic zeal; it is a gift of the Spirit Who gives. And even if the surrounding context is not favourable—like the Korean context of Andrew Kim—it does not change; on the contrary, it becomes even more valuable. St Andrew Kim and other Korean believers have demonstrated that witnessing to the Gospel in times of persecution can bear much fruit for the faith.

Now let us look at a second concrete example. When he was still a seminarian, St Andrew had to find a way to secretly welcome missionary priests from abroad. This was not an easy task, as the regime of the time strictly forbade all foreigners from entering the territory. That’s why it had been, before this, so difficult to find a priest that could come to do missionary work: the laity undertook the mission.

One time—think about what St Andrew did—one time, he was walking in the snow, without eating, for so long that he fell to the ground exhausted, risking unconsciousness and freezing. At that point, he suddenly heard a voice, “Get up, walk!” Hearing that voice, Andrew came to his senses, catching a glimpse of something like a shadow of someone guiding him.

This experience of the great Korean witness makes us understand a very important aspect of apostolic zeal; namely, the courage to get back up when one falls.

But do saints fall? Yes! Indeed, from the earliest times. Think of St Peter: he committed a great sin, eh? But he found strength in God's mercy and got up again. And in St Andrew we see this strength: he had fallen physically but he had the strength to go, go, go to carry the message forward.

No matter how difficult the situation may be—and indeed, at times it may seem to leave no room for the Gospel message—we must not give up and we must not forsake pursuing what is essential in our Christian life: namely, evangelization.

This is the path. And each of us can think to themselves: “But what about me, how can I evangelize?” But you look at these great ones and you consider your smallness, we consider our littleness: evangelising the family, evangelising friends, talking about Jesus—but talking about Jesus and evangelising with a heart full of joy, full of strength. And this is given by the Holy Spirit. Let us prepare to receive the Holy Spirit this coming Pentecost, and ask Him for that grace, the grace of apostolic courage, the grace to evangelize, to always carry the message of Jesus forward. Thank you.


Pope Francis

31.05.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 15. Witnesses: Venerable Matteo Ricci  

1 Corinthians 9: 19-20, 22-23

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

We are continuing these catecheses speaking about apostolic zeal, that is, what the Christian feels in order to carry out the proclamation of Jesus Christ. And today I would like to present another great example of apostolic zeal: we have spoken about Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Paul, the apostolic zeal of the great zealots; today we will talk about one – Italian, but who went to China: Matteo Ricci.

Originally from Macerata, in the Marches, after studying in the Jesuit schools and entering Society of Jesus in Rome, he was enthused by the reports of missionaries whom he had listened to and he grew enthusiastic, like so many other young people who felt the same, and he asked to be sent to the missions in the Far East. After the attempt by Francis Xavier, another twenty-five Jesuits had tried to enter China, without success. But Ricci and one of his confrères prepared themselves very well, carefully studying the Chinese language and customs, and in the end, they managed to settle in the south of the country. It took eighteen years, with four stages through four different cities, to arrive in Peking, which was the centre. With perseverance and patience, inspired by unshakeable faith, Matteo Ricci was able to overcome difficulties and dangers, mistrust and opposition. Think that, in that time, on foot or riding a horse, such distances… and he went on. But what was Matteo Ricci’s secret? By what road did his zeal drive him?

He always followed the way of dialogue and friendship with all the people he encountered, and this opened many doors to him for the proclamation of the Christian faith. His first work in Chinese was indeed a treatise on friendship, which had great resonance. To enter into Chinese culture and life, he first dressed like the Buddhist bonzes, according to the customs of the country, but then he understood that the best way was to assume the lifestyle and robes of the literati. The intellectuals dressed like university professors, and he dressed that way. He studied their classical texts in depth, so that he could present Christianity in positive dialogue with their Confucian wisdom and the customs of Chinese society. And this is called an attitude of inculturation. [In the early centuries of the Church] This missionary was able to “inculturate” the Christian faith, as the ancient fathers had done in dialogue with Greek culture.

His excellent scientific knowledge stirred interest and admiration on the part of cultured men, starting from his famous map of the entire world as it was known at the time, with the different continents, which revealed to the Chinese for the first time a reality outside China far more extensive than they had thought. He showed them that the world was even larger than China, and they understood, because they were intelligent. But the mathematical and astronomical knowledge of Ricci and his missionary followers also contributed to a fruitful encounter between the culture and science of the West and the East, which went on to experience one of its happiest times, characterized by dialogue and friendship. Indeed, Matteo Ricci’s work would never have been possible without the collaboration of his great Chinese friends, such as the famous “Doctor Paul” (Xu Guangqi) and “Doctor Leon” (Li Zhizao).

However, Ricci’s fame as a man of science should not obscure the deepest motivation of all his efforts: namely, the proclamation of the Gospel. With scientific dialogue, with scientists, he went ahead but he bore witness to his faith, to the Gospel. The credibility obtained through scientific dialogue gave him the authority to propose the truth of Christian faith and morality, of which he spoke in depth in his principal Chinese works, such as The true meaning of the Lord of Heaven – as the book was called. Besides doctrine, his witness of religious life, virtue and prayer: these missionaries prayed. They went to preach, they were active, they made political moves, all of that; but they prayed. It is what nourished the missionary life, a life of charity; they helped others, humbly, with total disinterest in honours and riches, which led many of his disciples and friends to embrace the Catholic faith. Because they saw a man who was so intelligent, so wise, so astute – in the good sense of the word – in getting things done, and so devout, that they said, “But what he preaches is true, because it is part of a personality that witnesses, he bears witnesses to what he preaches with his own life”. This is the coherence of the evangelizers. And this applies to all of us Christians who are evangelizers. We can recite the Creed by heart, we can say all the things we believe, but if our life is not consistent with this, it is of no use. What attracts people is the witness of consistency: we Christians must live as we say, and not pretend to live as Christians but to live in a worldly way. Be careful of this, look at this great missionary – and he was an Italian, wasn’t he – looking at these great missionaries, see that the greatest strength is consistency: they were consistent.

In the last days of his life, those who were closest to him and asked him how he felt, “he replied that he was thinking at that moment whether it was greater the joy and gladness he felt inwardly at the idea that he was close to his journey to go and savour God, or the sadness that leaving his companions of the whole mission that he loved so much, and the service that he could still do to God Our Lord in this mission,” (S. De Ursis, Report on M. Ricci, Roman Historical Archive S.J.). This is the same attitude of the Apostle Paul (cf. Phil 1:22-24), who wanted to go to the Lord, to find the Lord, but to stay “to serve you”.

Matteo Ricci died in Peking in 1610, at 57, a man who had given all his life for the mission. The missionary spirit of Matteo Ricci constitutes a relevant living model. His love for the Chinese people is a model; but the truly timely path is coherence of life, of the witness of his Christian belief. He took Christianity to China; he is great, yes, because he is a great scientist, he is great because he is courageous, he is great because he wrote many books – but above all, he is great because he was consistent in his vocation, consistent in his desire to follow Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters, today we, each one of us, let us ask ourselves inwardly, “Am I consistent, or am I a bit ‘so-so’?”. Thank you.


Pope Francis

07.06.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 16. Witnesses: Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, patron of the missions

Luke 15: 4-7

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Here before us are the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, universal patroness of missions. It is good that this happens while we are reflecting on the passion for evangelization, on apostolic zeal. Today, then, let us allow the witness of St. Therese to help us. She was born 150 years ago, and I plan to dedicate an Apostolic Letter to her on this anniversary.

She is patroness of the missions, but she was never sent on mission. She was a Carmelite nun who lived her life according to the way of littleness and weakness: she defined herself as “a small grain of sand.” Having poor health, she died at the age of only 24. But though her body was sickly, her heart was vibrant, missionary. She recounts in her “diary” that her desire was that of being a missionary, and that she wanted to be one not just for a few years, but for the rest of her life, even until the end of the world. Therese was a “spiritual sister” to several missionaries: she accompanied them from her monastery through her letters, through her prayer, and by offering continuous sacrifices for them. Without being visible, she interceded for the missions, like an engine that, although hidden, gives a vehicle the power to move forward. However, she was often not understood by her fellow nuns: she received “more thorns than roses” from them, but she accepted everything lovingly, patiently, offering even these judgments and misunderstandings together with her illness. And she did this joyfully, for the needs of the Church, so that, as she said, “roses might fall on everyone,” especially the most distant.

Now, I ask, where did all this zeal, this missionary strength, and this joy of interceding come from? Two episodes that occurred before Therese entered the monastery help us to understand this.

The first concerns the day that changed her life, Christmas 1886, when God worked a miracle in her heart. Shortly after that, Therese would turn 14 years old. As the youngest child, she was pampered by everyone at home. Returning from midnight Mass, however, her very tired father did not feel like being there when his daughter opened her gifts, and said, “Good thing it’s the last year!” Therese, who was very sensitive and easily moved to tears, was hurt, and went up to her room and cried. But she quickly suppressed her tears, went downstairs and, full of joy, she was the one who cheered her father. What had happened? On that night, when Jesus had made himself weak out of love, her soul became strong: in just a few moments, she had come out of the prison of her selfishness and self-pity; she began to feel that “charity entered her heart, with the need to forget herself” (cf. Manuscript A, 133-134). From then on, she directed her zeal toward others, that they might find God, and, instead of seeking consolations for herself, she set out to “console Jesus, to make him loved by souls,” because, as Therese, Doctor of the Church, noted, “Jesus is sick with love and ... the sickness of love cannot be cured except by love” (Letter to Marie Guérin, July 1890). This then was her daily resolution: to “make Jesus loved” (Letter to Céline, 15 October 1889), to intercede for others. She wrote, “I want to save souls and forget myself for them: I want to save them even after my death” (Letter to Fr. Roullan, 19 March 1897). Several times she said, “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.”

Following the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd, her zeal was directed especially toward sinners, to “those far off.” This is revealed in the second episode. Therese learnt about a criminal, Enrico Pranzini, sentenced to death for horrible crimes: he had been found guilty of the brutal murder of three people, and was destined for the guillotine; but he did not want to receive the consolations of the faith. Therese took him into her heart and did all she could: she prayed in every way for his conversion, so that he, whom, with brotherly compassion she called “poor wretched Pranzini,” might demonstrate a small sign of repentance and make room for God's mercy in which Therese trusted blindly. The execution took place. The next day, Therese read in the newspaper that Pranzini, just before laying his head on the block, “all of a sudden, seized by a sudden inspiration, turned around, grabbed a Crucifix that the priest handed to him and kissed three times the sacred wounds” of Jesus. The saint remarked, “Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of the One who declared that in Heaven there will be more joy for a single sinner who repents than for the ninety-nine righteous who have no need of repentance!” (Manuscript A, 135).

Such is the power of intercession moved by charity; such is the engine of mission! Missionaries, in fact – of whom Therese is patroness – are not only those who travel long distances, learn new languages, do good works, and are good at proclamation; no, a missionary is anyone who lives as an instrument of God's love where they are. Missionaries are those who do everything so that, through their witness, their prayer, their intercession, Jesus might pass by.

This is the apostolic zeal that, let us always remember, never works by proselytism or constraint, but by attraction: one does not become a Christian because they are forced by someone, but because they have been touched by love. With so many means, methods, and structures available, which sometimes distract from what is essential, the Church needs hearts like Therese’s, hearts that draw people to love and bring people closer to God. Let us ask this saint for the grace to overcome our selfishness and for the passion to intercede that Jesus might be known and loved.


Pope Francis

28.06.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 17. Witnesses: Saint Mary MacKillop  

Mark 9: 35-37

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today we must have a bit of patience, with this heat – and thank you for coming, with this heat, with this sun: thank you very much for your visit.

In this series of catecheses on apostolic zeal we are talking about this – we are encountering some exemplary figures of men and women from all times and places, who have given their lives for the Gospel. Today we are going to Oceania – far away, isn’t it? – a continent made up of many islands, large and small. The faith in Christ, which so many European emigrants brought to those lands, soon took root and bore abundant fruit (cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania, 6). Among them was an extraordinary religious sister, Mary MacKillop (1842-1909), foundress of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, who dedicated her life to the intellectual and religious formation of the poor in rural Australia.

Mary MacKillop was born near Melbourne to parents who emigrated to Australia from Scotland. As a young girl, she felt called by God to serve him and bear witness to him not only with words, but above all with a life transformed by God's presence (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 259). Like Mary Magdalene, who first encountered the risen Jesus and was sent by him to bring the proclamation to the disciples, Mary was convinced that she too was sent to spread the Good News and attract others to an encounter with the living God.

Wisely reading the signs of the times, she understood that for her, the best way to do so was through the education of the young, in the knowledge that Catholic education is a form of evangelization. It is a great form of evangelization. In this way, if we can say that “Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel” (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 19) then Mary McKillop was especially so through the founding of schools.

An essential characteristic of her zeal for the Gospel was caring for the poor and marginalized. And this is very important: on the path to holiness, which is the Christian path, the poor and marginalized are protagonists, and a person cannot advance in holiness if he or she is not dedicated to them too, in one way or another. But they are the presence of the Lord, those who are in need of the Lord’s help. Once I read a phrase that struck me; it said: “The protagonist of History is the beggar. They are the ones who draw attention to this great injustice, which is the great poverty in the world”. Money is spent on manufacturing weapons, not providing meals. And do not forget: there is no holiness if in one way or another there is no care for the poor, the needy, those who are somewhat on the margins of society. This care for the poor and the marginalized drove Mary to go where others would not or could not go. On 19 March 1866, the feast of Saint Joseph, she opened the first school in a small suburb of South Australia. It was followed by many others that she and her sisters founded in rural communities throughout Australia and New Zealand. But they multiplied, apostolic zeal is like that: it multiplies works.

Mary MacKillop was convinced that the purpose of education is the integral development of the person both as an individual and as a member of the community; and that this requires wisdom, patience and charity on the part of every teacher.

Indeed, education does not consist of filling the head with ideas: no, not just this, but: what does education constitute? Accompanying and encouraging students on the path of human and spiritual growth, showing them how friendship with the Risen Jesus expands the heart and makes life more humane. Educating and helping to think well, to feel well (the language of the heart) and to do good (the language of the hands). This vision is fully relevant today, when we feel the need for an “educational pact” capable of uniting families, schools and society as a whole.

Mary MacKillop's zeal for spreading the Gospel among the poor also led her to undertake a number of other charitable works, starting with the “Providence House” opened in Adelaide to take in the elderly and abandoned children. Mary had great faith in God's Providence: she was always confident that in any situation God provides. But this did not spare her from the anxieties and difficulties arising from her apostolate, and Mary had good reason for this: she had to pay bills, negotiate with local bishops and priests, manage the schools and look after the professional and spiritual formation of her Sisters; and, later, she suffered health problems. Yet, through it all, she remained calm, patiently carrying the cross that is an integral part of the mission.

On one occasion, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Mary said to one of her Sisters: “My daughter, for many years I have learned to love the Cross”. For many years I have learned to love the Cross. She did not give up in times of trial and darkness, when her joy was dampened by opposition or rejection. Look at this: all the saints faced opposition, even within the Church. This is curious. And she faced it too. She remained convinced that even when the Lord gave her “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction” (Is 30:20), The Lord Himself would soon answer her cry and surround her with His grace. This is the secret of apostolic zeal: the continual relationship with the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, may Saint Mary MacKillop's missionary discipleship, her creative response to the needs of the Church of her time, and her commitment to the integral formation of young people inspire all of us today, called to be a leaven of the Gospel in our rapidly changing societies. May her example and intercession support the daily work of parents, teachers, catechists and all educators, for the good of young people and for a more humane and hopeful future. Thank you very much.


Pope Francis

30.08.23 General Audience, Paul VI Audience Hall

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 19. To pray and to serve with joy: St Kateri Tekakwitha, first native saint of North America  

1 Thessalonians  5: 15-18

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Now, continuing our catechesis on the theme of apostolic zeal and passion for proclaiming the Gospel, we look today at St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first native North American woman to be canonized. Born around the year 1656 in a village in upstate New York, she was the daughter of an unbaptized Mohawk chief and an Algonquin Christian mother, who taught Kateri to pray and sing hymns to God. Many of us were also first introduced to the Lord in family settings, especially by our mothers and grandmothers. This is how evangelization begins and, indeed, we must not forget that the faith is always transmitted in this dialect by mothers, by grandmothers. Faith should be transmitted in dialect, and we received it in dialect from mothers and grandmothers.Evangelism often begins this way: with simple, small gestures, such as parents helping their children learn to talk to God in prayer and telling them about His great and merciful love. And the foundation of faith for Kateri, and often for us as well, was laid in this way. She received it from her mother in dialect, the dialect of the faith.

When Kateri was four years old, a severe smallpox epidemic struck her people. Both of her parents and her younger brother died, and Kateri herself was left with scars on her face and vision problems. From then on, Kateri had to face many difficulties: the physical ones from the effects of smallpox, certainly, but also the misunderstandings, persecutions, and even death threats she suffered following her Baptism on Easter Sunday 1676. All this gave Kateri a great love for the Cross, the definitive sign of the love of Christ, who gave Himself to the end for us. Indeed, witnessing to the Gospel is not only about what is pleasing; we must also know how to bear our daily crosses with patience, trust, and hope. Patience in the face of difficulties, of crosses: patience is a great Christian virtue. He who does not have patience is not a good Christian. Patience to tolerate: to tolerate others, who are sometimes annoying or cause difficulties. Kateri Tekakwitha’s life shows us that every challenge can be overcome if we open our hearts to Jesus, Who grants us the grace we need. Patience and a heart open to Jesus – this is a recipe for living well.

After being baptized, Kateri was forced to take refuge among the Mohawks in the Jesuit mission near the city of Montreal. There she attended Mass every morning, devoted time to adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, prayed the Rosary, and lived a life of penance. These spiritual practices of hers impressed everyone at the Mission; they recognized in Kateri a holiness that was appealing because it stemmed from her deep love for God. This is proper to holiness: to attract. God calls us through attraction; He calls us with this desire to be close to us and one feels this divine attaction. At the same time, she taught the children of the Mission to pray; and through the constant fulfilment of her responsibilities, including caring for the sick and elderly, she offered an example of humble and loving service to God and neighbour. The faith is always expressed service. The faith is not about putting on make-up, putting make-up on the soul; no, it is to serve.

Although she was encouraged to marry, Kateri preferred to dedicate her life to Christ. Unable to enter the consecrated life, she made a vow of perpetual virginity on March 25, 1679. This choice of hers reveals another aspect of apostolic zeal that she had: total surrender to the Lord. Of course, not everyone is called to make the same vow as Kateri, but every Christian is called to give themself daily with an undivided heart to the vocation and mission entrusted to them by God, serving God and one’s neighbour in a spirit of charity.

Dear brothers and sisters, Kateri’s life is further proof that apostolic zeal implies both union with Jesus, nourished by prayer and the sacraments, and the desire to spread the beauty of the Christian message through fidelity to one’s particular vocation. Kateri’s last words are very beautiful. Before she died, she said, “Jesus, I love you.”

May we too, like St. Kateri Tekakwitha, draw strength from the Lord and learn to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways, growing daily in faith, charity, and zealous witness for Christ.

Let us not forget: Each one of us is called to holiness, to everyday holiness, to the holiness of the common Christian life. Each one of us has this calling: we go forward along this path. The Lord will not fail us.


Pope Francis

13.09.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 20. Blessed José Gregorio Hernández Cisneros, doctor of the poor and apostle of peace   

1 Timothy  2: 1-4

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In our catecheses, we continue to meet passionate witnesses to the proclamation of the Gospel. Let us recall that this is a series of catecheses on apostolic zeal, on the will and even the interior ardour to carry forward the Gospel. Today we go to Latin America, specifically to Venezuela, to get to know the figure of a layman, Blessed José Gregorio Hernández Cisneros. He was born in 1864 and learned the faith above all from his mother, as he recounted, “My mother taught me virtue from the cradle, made me grow in the knowledge of God and gave me charity as my guide.” Let’s be attentive: it is the moms who pass on the faith. The faith is passed on in dialect, that is, the language of moms, that dialect that moms know to speak with their children. And to you moms: be diligent in passing on the faith in that maternal dialect.

Truly, charity was the north star that oriented the existence of Blessed José Gregorio: a good and sunny person with a cheerful disposition, he was endowed with a marked intelligence; he became a doctor, university professor, and scientist. But he was first and foremost a doctor close to the weakest, so much so that he was known in his homeland as “the doctor of the poor.” He cared for the poor, always. To the riches of money he preferred the riches of the Gospel, spending his existence to aid the needy. In the poor, the sick, the migrants, the suffering, José Gregorio saw Jesus. The success he never sought in the world he received, and continues to receive, from the people, who call him “saint of the people,” “apostle of charity,” “missionary of hope.” Beautiful names: “saint of the people”, “apostle of the people”, “missionary of hope”.

José Gregorio was a humble man, kind, and helpful man. And at the same time he was driven by an inner fire, a desire to live in the service of God and neighbor. Driven by this ardor, he tried several times to become a religious and a priest, but various health problems prevented him from doing so. Physical frailty did not, however, lead him to close in on himself, but to become a doctor who was even more sensitive to the needs of others; he clung to Providence and, forged in his soul, went ever more toward what was essential. This is apostolic zeal: it does not follow one’s own aspirations, but openness to God’s designs. And so the Blessed understood that, through caring for the sick, he would put God’s will into practice, comforting the suffering, giving hope to the poor, witnessing to the faith not in words but by example. So, by way of this interior path, he came to accept medicine as a priesthood: “the priesthood of human pain” (M. YABER, José Gregorio Hernández: Médico de los Pobres, Apóstol de la Justicia Social, Misionero de las Esperanzas, 2004, 107). How important it is not to suffer things passively, but, as Scripture says, to do everything in a good spirit, to serve the Lord (cf. Col. 3:23).

But let us ask ourselves, though: where did José Gregorio get all this enthusiasm, all this zeal? It came from a certainty and a strength. The certainty was God’s grace: he wrote that “if there are good and bad people in the world, the bad are such because they themselves have become bad: but the good are such with God’s help” (May 27, 1914). And he considered himself first of all to be in need of grace, begging on the streets and in dire need of the love. And this was the strength he drew on: intimacy with God. He was a man of prayer – this is the grace of God and the intimacy with the Lord. He was a man of prayer who participated at Mass.

And in contact with Jesus, who offers himself on the altar for all, José Gregory felt called to offer his life for peace. The First World War was underway. So, we come to June 29, 1919: a friend comes to visit him and finds him very happy. José Gregorio has indeed learned that the treaty ending the war has been signed. His offering has been accepted, and it is as if he foresees that his work on earth is done. That morning, as usual, he had been at Mass, and now he goes down the street to bring medicine to a sick person. But as he crosses the road, he is hit by a vehicle; taken to the hospital, he dies pronouncing the name of Our Lady. So, his earthly journey ends, on a road while doing a work of mercy, and in a hospital, where he had made his work a masterpiece, as a doctor.

Brothers, sisters, in the presence of this witness let us ask ourselves: do I, faced with God present in the poor near me, faced with those in the world who suffer the most, how do I react? And the example of José Gregorio: how does it affect me? He spurs us to engagement in the face of the great social, economic, and political issues of today. So many people talk about it, so many complain about it, so many criticize and say that everything is going wrong. But that’s not what the Christian is called to do; instead, he is called to deal with it, to get his or her hands dirty: first of all, as St. Paul told us, to pray (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-4), and then not to engage in idle chattering – idle chatter is a plague – but to promote good, and to build peace and justice in truth. This, too, is apostolic zeal; it is the proclamation of the Gospel; and this is Christian beatitude: “blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:9).

Let us go forward along the path of Blessed José Gregorio: a layman, a doctor, a man of daily work whom apostolic zeal drove to live performing charity throughout his whole life.


Pope Francis

20.09.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 21. Saint Daniel Comboni, apostle for Africa and a prophet of mission

1 Thessalonians 2: 4, 7-8

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Along the course of catechesis on the passion for evangelization, that is, apostolic zeal, let us spend some time today on the witness of Saint Daniel Comboni. He was an apostle who was filled with zeal for Africa. He wrote of these peoples: “they have taken possession of my heart that lives for them alone” (Writings, 941). “I shall die with Africa on my lips” (Writings, 1441). That’s beautiful, isn’t it? And he wrote this to them: “the happiest of my days will be when I may give my life for you” (Writings, 3159). This is the expression of someone who is in love with God and with the brothers and sisters he was serving in mission, whom he never tired of reminding that “Jesus Christ suffered and died for them as well” (Writings, 2499; 4801).

He affirmed this in a context characterized by the horror of slavery, of which he was a witness. Slavery “objectifies” the human being, whose value is reduced to being useful to someone or something. But Jesus, God made man, elevated the dignity of every human being and exposed the falsity of every slavery. In the light of Christ, Comboni became aware of the evil of slavery. Moreover, he understood that social slavery is rooted in an even deeper slavery, that of the heart, that of sin, from which the Lord frees us. As Christians, therefore, we are called to fight every form of slavery. Unfortunately, however, slavery, like colonialism, is not something from the past, unfortunately. In the Africa that Comboni loved so much, which is today torn by so many conflicts, “political exploitation gave way to an ‘economic colonialism’ that was equally enslaving. (…) This is a tragedy to which the economically more advanced world often closes its eyes, ears and mouth”. I therefore renew my appeal: “Stop choking Africa: it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered” (Meeting with Authorities, Kinshasa, 31 January 2023).

And going back to the life of Saint Daniel. After the first period spent in Africa, he had to leave the mission due to health reasons. Too many missionaries had died after contracting malaria, complicated by insufficient awareness of the local situation. Though others abandoned Africa, Comboni did not do so. After a period of discernment, he felt the Lord was inspiring him along a new path of evangelization, which he summed up in these words: “Save Africa with Africa” (Writings, 2741s). This was a powerful insight, devoid of colonialism. It was a powerful insight that helped renew his missionary outreach: the people who had been evangelized were not only “objects”, but “subjects” of mission. And Saint Daniel Comboni wanted every Christian to participte in the evangelizing enterprise. With this spirit, he integrated his thoughts and actions, involving the local clergy and promoting the lay service of catechist. Catechists are a treasure in the Church. Catechists are those who bring evangelization forward. He also conceived of human development in this way, cultivating the arts and professions, fostering the role of the family and of women in the transformation of culture and society. And how important it is, even today, to make the faith and human development progress within the context of mission, rather than transplant external models or limit them to sterile welfarism! Neither external models nor welfarism. To take the path of evangelization from the culture, from the people’s culture. To evangelize the culture and to inculturate the Gospel go together.

Comboni’s great missionary passion, however, was not primarily the fruit of human endeavor. He was not driven by his own courage or motivated solely by important values such as freedom, justice and peace. His zeal came from the joy of the Gospel, drawn from Christ’s love which then led to love of Christ! Saint Daniel wrote, “Such an arduous and laborious mission as ours cannot be glossed over, lived by crooked-necked people filled with egoism and with themselves, who do not care for their health and the conversion of souls as they should”. This is the tragedy of clericalism which leads Christians, laity included, to clericalize themselves and to transform themselves – as it says here – into people with crooked necks filled with egoism. This is the plague of clericalism. And he added, “It is necessary to inflame them with charity that has its source from God and the love of Christ; when one truly loves Christ, then privations, sufferings and martyrdom become sweet” (Writings, 6656). He desired to see ardent, joyful, dedicated missionaries, “holy and capable” missionaries, he wrote, “first of all saints, that is, completely free from sin and offence to God and humble. But this is not enough: we need charity that enables our subjects” (Writings, 6655). For Comboni, the source of missionary ability, therefore, is charity, in particular, the zeal by which he made the sufferings of others his own.

In addition, his passion for evangelization never led him to act as a soloist, but always in communion, in the Church. “I have but one life to offer for the salvation of those souls: I wish I had a thousand to be consumed for this end” (Writings, 2271).

Brothers and sisters, Saint Daniel testifies to the love of the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the one who is lost and gives his life for the flock. His zeal was energetic and prophetic in being opposed to indifference and exclusion. In his letters, he earnestly called out his beloved Church who had forgotten Africa for too long. Comboni’s dream is that of a Church who makes common cause with those who are crucified in history, so as to experience the resurrection with them. At this moment, I would like to offer all of you a suggestion. Think of those who are crucified in today’s history: men, women, children, the elderly, all those who are crucified by the history of injustice and domination. Let us think of them and let us pray for them. His witness seems to want to repeat to all of us, men and women of the Church: “Do not forget the poor – love them – for Jesus crucified is present in them, waiting to rise again”. Let us not forget the poor. Before coming here, I had a meeting with Brazilian legislators who are working for the poor, who try to promote the poor through assistance and social justice. And they do not forget the poor – they work for the poor. To all of you, I say: do not forget the poor, because they will be the ones who will open the door of Heaven for you. Thank you.


Pope Francis

11.10.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 22. Saint Josephine Bakhita: witness of the transforming power of Christ’s forgiveness 

Luke 23: 32-34

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

In our path of catechesis on apostolic zeal – we are reflecting on apostolic zeal - today we will let ourselves be inspired by the witness of Saint Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese saint. Unfortunately, for months Sudan has been torn by a terrible armed conflict, of which little is spoken today; let us pray for the Sudanese people, so they might live in peace! But the fame of Saint Bakhita has exceeded every boundary and reached all those to whom identity and dignity is denied.

Born in Darfur – troubled Darfur! – in 1869, she was abducted from her family at the age of seven, and made a slave. Her abductors called her “Bakhita”, which means “fortunate”. She passed through eight masters – each one sold her on to the next. The physical and moral suffering she suffered as a child left her with no identity. She suffered cruelty and violence: on her body she bore more than a hundred scars. But she herself testified: “As a slave I never despaired, because I felt a mysterious force supporting me”.

In the face of this, I wonder: what is Saint Bakhita’s secret? We know that often a wounded person wounds in turn: the oppressed easily becomes an oppressor. Instead, the vocation of the oppressed is that of freeing themselves and their oppressors, becoming restorers of humanity. Only in the weakness of the oppressed can the force of God’s love, which frees both, be revealed. Saint Bakhita expresses this truth very well. One day her tutor gave her a small crucifix and she, who had never owned anything, conserved her treasure jealously. Looking at it, she experienced inner liberation, because she felt understood and loved and therefore capable of understanding and loving: this is the beginning. She felt understood, she felt loved, and as a consequence capable of understanding and loving others. Indeed, she went on to say: “God’s love has always accompanied me in a mysterious way… The Lord loved me: you have to love everyone … you have to have pity!”. This is Bakhita’s soul. Truly, to pity means both to suffer with the victims of the great inhumanity in the world, and also to pity those who commit errors and injustices, not justifying, but humanizing. This is the caress she teaches us: to humanize. When we enter the logic of fighting, of division between us, of bad feelings, one against the other, we lose our humanity. And very often we think we are in need of humanity, to be more humane. And this is the work that Saint Bakhita teaches us: to humanize, to humanize ourselves and to humanize others.

Saint Bakhita, who became Christian, was transformed by the words of Christ she meditated on every day: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). And so she said: “If Judas had asked Jesus for forgiveness, he too would have found mercy”. We can say that St Bakhita’s life became an existential parable of forgiveness. How good it is to say to a person, “he was capable, she was capable of forgiving, always”. And she was always capable of forgiving; indeed, her life is an existential parable of forgiveness. To forgive because then we will be forgiven. Do not forget this: forgiveness, which is God’s caress to all of us.

Forgiveness liberated her. Forgiveness first received through God’s merciful love, and then the forgiveness given that made her a free, joyful woman, capable of loving.

Bakhita was able to experience service not as slavery, but as an expression of the free gift of self. And this is very important: made a servant involuntarily – she was sold as a slave – she then freely chose to become a servant, to bear on her shoulders the burdens of others.

Saint Josephine Bakhita, by her example, shows us the way to finally be free from our slavery and fears. She helps us to unmask our hypocrisies and selfishness, to overcome resentments and conflicts. And she encourages us, always.

Dear brothers and sisters, forgiveness takes away nothing but adds – what does forgiveness add? – dignity: forgives takes away nothing from you but adds dignity to the person, it makes us lift our gaze from ourselves towards others, to see them as fragile as we are, yet always brothers and sisters in the Lord. Brothers and sisters, forgiveness is the wellspring of a zeal that becomes mercy and calls us to a humble and joyful holiness, like that of Saint Bakhita.


Pope Francis

18.10.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 23. Saint Charles de Foucauld, the beating heart of charity in the hidden life  

Luke 2: 51-52

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Let us continue in our encounter with some Christian witnesses rich in zeal for proclaiming the Gospel. Apostolic zeal, the zeal for proclamation: and we are looking at some Christians who have been an example of this apostolic zeal. Today I would like to talk to you about a man who made Jesus and his poorest brothers the passion of his life. I refer to Saint Charles de Foucauld, who “drawing upon his intense experience of God, made a journey of transformation towards feeling a brother to all” (Encyclical Letter Fratelli tutti, 286).

And what is the “secret” of Charles de Foucauld, of his life? After living a youth far from God, without believing in anything other than the disordered pursuit of pleasure, he confides this to a non-believing friend, to whom, after having converted by accepting the grace of God's forgiveness in Confession, he reveals the reason for his life. He writes: “I have lost my heart to Jesus of Nazareth”. [1] Brother Charles thus reminds us that the first step in evangelizing is to have Jesus inside one's heart; it is to “fall head over heels” for him. If this does not happen, we can hardly show it with our lives. Instead, we risk talking about ourselves, the group to which we belong, a morality or, even worse, a set of rules, but not about Jesus, his love, his mercy. I see this in some new movements that are emerging: they talk about their vision of humanity, they talk about their spirituality and they feel theirs is a new path… But why do you not talk about Jesus? They talk about many things, about organization, about spiritual journeys, but they do not know how to talk about Jesus. I think that today it would be good for each one of us to ask him- or herself: “Do I have Jesus at the centre of my heart? Have I ‘lost my head’ a bit for Jesus?”.

Charles had, to the extent that he goes from attraction to Jesus to imitation of Jesus. Advised by his confessor, he goes to the Holy Land to visit the places where the Lord lived and to walk where the Master walked. In particular, it is in Nazareth that he realises he must be formed in the school of Christ. He experiences an intense relationship with the Lord, spends long hours reading the Gospels, and feels like his little brother. And as he gets to know Jesus, the desire to make Jesus known arises in him; it always happens like this. When one of us gets to know Jesus better, the desire to make him known, to share this treasure, arises. In commenting on the account of Our Lady's visit to Saint Elizabeth, he makes him say, to Our Lady, to him: “I have given myself to the world... take me to the world”. Yes, but how is this done? Like Mary in the mystery of the Visitation: “in silence, by example, by life”. [2] By life, because “our whole existence”, writes Brother Charles, “must cry out the Gospel”. [3] And very often our existence calls out worldliness, it calls out many stupid things, strange things, and he says: “No, all our existence must shout out the Gospel”.

He then decides to settle in distant regions to cry out the Gospel in the silence, living in the spirit of Nazareth, in poverty and concealment. He does to the Sahara Desert, among non-Christians, and he goes there as a friend and a brother, bearing the meekness of Jesus the Eucharist. Charles lets Jesus act silently, convinced that the “Eucharistic life” evangelizes. Indeed, he believes that Christ is the first evangelizer. And so he remains in prayer at Jesus’ feet, before the Tabernacle, for a dozen hours a day, sure that the evangelizing force resides there and feeling that it is Jesus who will bring him close to so many distant brothers. And do we, I ask myself, believe in the power of the Eucharist? Does our going out to others, our service, find its beginning and its fulfilment there, in adoration? I am convinced that we have lost the sense of adoration: we must regain it, starting with us consecrated persons, bishops, priests, nuns and all consecrated persons. “Waste” time before the tabernacle, regain the sense of adoration.

Charles de Foucauld wrote: “Every Christian is an apostle”, [4] and reminds a lay friend that “there need to be laypeople close to priests, to see what the priest does not see, who evangelize with a proximity of charity, with goodness for everyone, with affection always ready to be given”. [5] The saintly laypeople, not climbers, but those laypeople, that layman, that laywoman, who love Jesus, make the priest understand that he is not a functionary, he is a mediator, a priest. How we priests need to have beside us those laypeople who truly believe, and who teach us the way by their witness.

Charles de Foucauld, with this lay experience, foreshadows the times of Vatican Council II; he intuits the importance of the laity and understands that the proclamation of the Gospel is up to the entire people of God. But how can we increase this participation? The way Charles de Foucauld did: by kneeling and welcoming the action of the Spirit, who always inspires new ways to engage, meet, listen and dialogue, always in collaboration and trust, always in communion with the Church and pastors.

Saint Charles de Foucauld, a figure who is a prophecy for our time, bore witness to the beauty of communicating the Gospel through the apostolate of meekness: considering himself a “universal brother” and welcoming everyone, he shows us the evangelizing force of meekness, of tenderness. Let us not forget that God’s style is summarized in three words: proximity, compassion and tenderness. God is always near, he is always compassionate, he is always tender. And Christian witness must take this road: of proximity, compassion and tenderness. And this is how he was, meek and tender. He wanted everyone he met to see, through his goodness, the goodness of Jesus. Indeed, he used to say that he was a “servant to someone much better than me”. [6] Living Jesus’ goodness led him to forge fraternal friendships with the bonds of friendship with the poor, with the Tuareg, with those furthest from his mentality. Gradually these bonds generated fraternity, inclusion, appreciation of the other’s culture. Goodness is simple and asks us to be simple people, who are not afraid to offer a smile. And with his smile, with his simplicity, Brother Charles bore witness to the Gospel. Never by proselytism, never: by witness. One does not evangelize by proselytism, but by witness, by attraction.

So finally, let us ask ourselves whether we bring Christian joy, Christian meekness, Christian tenderness, Christian compassion, Christian proximity. Thank you.

[1] Lettres à un ami de lycée. Correspondance avec Gabriel Tourdes (1874-1915), Paris 2010, 161.

[2] Crier l’Evangile, Montrouge 2004, 49.

[3] M/314 in C. de Foucauld, La bonté de Dieu. Méditations sur les Saints Evangiles (1), Montrouge 2002, 285.

[4] Letter to Joseph Hours, in Correspondances lyonnaises (1904-1916), Paris 2005, 92.

[5] Ivi, 90.

[6] Carnets de Tamanrasset (1905-1916), Paris 1986, 188.


Pope Francis

25.10.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Cycle of catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 24. Saints Cyril and Methodius, apostles of the Slavs  

Acts 11: 2-4,15,17

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today I will talk to you about two brothers, very famous in the east, to the point of being called “the apostles of the Slavs”: Saints Cyril and Methodius. Born in Greece in the ninth century into an aristocratic family, they renounced a political career to devote themselves to monastic life. But their dream of a secluded existence was short-lived. They were sent as missionaries to Great Moravia, which at the time included various peoples, already partly evangelized, but among whom many pagan customs and traditions survived. Their prince asked for a teacher to explain the Christian faith in their language.

Cyril and Methodius' first task was therefore to study the culture of those peoples in depth. Always the same refrain: faith must be inculturated and the culture evangelized. Inculturation of faith, evangelization of culture, always. Cyril asked if they had an alphabet; they told him they did not. He replied: “Who can write a speech on water?”. Indeed, to proclaim the Gospel and to pray, one needed a proper, suitable, specific tool. So, he invented the Glagolitic alphabet. He translated the Bible and liturgical texts. People felt that the Christian faith was no longer ‘foreign’, but rather it became their faith, spoken in their mother tongue. Just think: two Greek monks giving an alphabet to the Slavs. It is this openness of heart that rooted the Gospel among them. Those two had no fear, they were courageous.

Very soon, however, some opposition emerged on the part of some Latins, who saw themselves deprived of their monopoly on preaching to the Slavs; that fight within the Church, it is always that way. Their objection was religious, but only in appearance: God can be praised, they said, only in the three languages written on the cross: Hebrew, Greek and Latin. They had a closed mindset, to defend their own autonomy. But Cyril responded forcefully: God wants every people to praise Him in their own language. Together with his brother Methodius, he appealed to the Pope and the latter approved their liturgical texts in the Slavic language. He had them placed on the altar of the Church of Saint Mary Major, and sang with them the Lord’s praises according to those books. Cyril died a few days later, and his relics are still venerated here in Rome, in the Basilica of Saint Clement. Methodius, instead, was ordained a bishop and sent back to the Slav territories. Here he would suffer a great deal: he would even be imprisoned, but, brothers and sisters, we know that the Word of God was not shackled and spread throughout those peoples.

Looking at the witness of these two evangelizers, whom Saint John Paul II chose as co-patrons of Europe and on whom he wrote the Encyclical Slavorum Apostoli, let us look at three important aspects.

First of all, unity. The Greeks, the Pope, the Slavs: at that time, there was an undivided Christianity in Europe, which collaborated in order to evangelize.

A second important aspect is inculturation, of which I said something earlier: evangelizing the culture and inculturation show that evangelization and culture are closely connected. One cannot preach the Gospel in an abstract, distilled way, no: the Gospel must be inculturated and it is also an expression of culture.

A final aspect is freedom. Preaching requires freedom, but freedom always needs courage; a person is free to the extent that they are courageous and do not let themselves be shackled by many things that take away their freedom.

Brothers and sisters, let us ask Saints Cyril and Methodius, apostles of the Slavs, that we may be instruments of “freedom in charity” for others. To be creative, to be constant and to be humble, with prayer and with service.


Pope Francis

08.11.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Cycle of catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 25. Madeleine Delbrêl. The joy of faith among non-believers

Matthew 5: 13-16

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Among the many witnesses of the passion for the proclamation of the Gospel, those impassioned evangelizers, today I will present a twentieth-century French woman, the venerable servant of God Madeleine Delbrêl. She was born in 1904 and died in 1964, a social worker, writer and mystic, and lived for more than thirty years in the poor, working class outskirts of Paris. Dazzled by the encounter with the Lord, she wrote: “Once we have come to know the word of God, we have no right not to receive it; once we have received it, we have no right not to let it be incarnated in us; once it has been incarnated in us, we have no right to keep it for ourselves: from that moment on, we belong to those who await it” (La santità della gente comune, Milan 2020, 71). Beautiful: what she wrote is beautiful.

After an adolescence of agnosticism – she believed in nothing – at the age of around twenty Madeleine encountered the Lord, struck by the witness of some friends who were believers. She set out in search of God, giving voice to a profound thirst that she felt within, and came to learn that the “emptiness that cried out her anguish in her” was God who sought her (Abbagliata da Dio. Corrispondenza, 1910-1941, Milan 2007, 96). The joy of faith led her to evolve towards the choice of a life entirely given to God, in the heart of the Church and in the heart of the world, simply sharing in fraternity the life of the “street people”. Thus, she poetically addressed Jesus: “To be with you on your path, we must go, even when our laziness begs us to stay. You have chosen us to stay in a strange balance, a balance that can be achieved and maintained only in movement, only in momentum. A bit like a bicycle, which does not stay upright unless its wheels turn. … We can stay upright only by going forward, moving, in a surge of charity”. It is what she calls the “spirituality of the bicycle” (Umorismo nell’Amore. Meditazioni e poesie, Milan 2011, 56). Only on the move, on the go, do we live in the balance of faith, which is an imbalance, but it is like that: like the bicycle. If you stop, it does not stay upright.

Madeleine had a constantly outgoing heart, and she let herself be challenged by the cry of the poor. She felt that the Living God of the Gospel should burn within us until we have taken his name to those who have not yet found it. In this spirit, oriented towards the stirrings of the world and the cry of the poor, Madeleine felt called to “live Jesus’ love entirely and to the letter, from the oil of the good Samaritan to the vinegar of Calvary, thus giving him love for love … because, by loving him without reserve and letting ourselves be loved completely, the two great commandments of charity are incarnated in us and become but one” (La vocation de la charité, 1, Œuvres complètes XIII, Bruyères-le-Châtel, 138-139).

Finally, Madeleine teaches us yet another thing: that by evangelizing one is evangelized: by evangelizing we are evangelized. Therefore, she used to say, echoing Saint Paul: “Woe to me if evangelizing, I do not evangelize myself”. Indeed, evangelizing evangelizes one. And this is a beautiful doctrine.

Looking at this witness of the Gospel, we too learn that in every personal or social situation or circumstance of our life, the Lord is present and calls to us to inhabit our own time, to share our life with others, to mingle with the joys and sorrows of the world. In particular, he teaches us that even secularized environments are helpful for conversion, because contact with non-believers prompts the believer to a continual revision of his or her way of believing and rediscovering faith it its essentiality (cf. Noi dell estrade, Milan 1988, 268s).

May Madeleine Delbrêl teach us to live this faith “on the move”, so to speak, this fruitful faith that makes every act of faith an act of charity in the proclamation of the Gospel. Thank you.


Pope Francis

15.11.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 26. Proclamation is joy

Luke 2: 8-11

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

After encountering several witnesses of the proclamation of the Gospel, I propose summarizing this cycle of catechesis on apostolic zeal in four points, inspired by the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, whose tenth anniversary we celebrate this month. The first point, which we will see today, the first of the four, cannot but relate to the attitude on which the substance of the evangelizing gesture depends: joy. Joy. The Christian message, as we have heard from the angel’s words to the shepherds, is the proclamation of “a great joy” (Lk 2: 10). And the reason? Good news, a surprise, a beautiful event? Much more, a Person: Jesus! He is the God made man who came to us. The question, dear brothers and sisters, is therefore not whether to proclaim it, but how to proclaim it, and this “how” is joy. Either we proclaim Jesus with joy, or we do not proclaim him, because another way of proclaiming him is not capable of bringing the true reality of Jesus.

This is why a Christian who is discontented, a sad Christian, a dissatisfied, or worse still, resentful or rancorous Christian, is not credible. This person will talk about Jesus but no-one will believe him! Once someone said to me, talking about these Christians, “But these are po-faced Christians!”, that is, they express nothing, they are like that, and joy is essential. It is essential to keep watch over our sentiments. Evangelization works in gratuitousness, because it comes from fullness, not from pressure. And when one evangelizes – one would try to do this, but it does not work – on the basis of ideologies: the Gospel is a proclamation, a proclamation of joy. Ideologies are cold, all of them. The Gospel has the warmth of joy. Ideologies do not know how to smile; the Gospel is a smile, it makes you smile because it touches the soul with the Good News.

The birth of Jesus, in history as in life, is the source of joy: think of what happened to the disciples of Emmaus, who could not believe their joy, and the others, then, the disciples all together, when Jesus goes to the Upper Room, could not believe their joy. The joy of having the risen Jesus. An encounter with Jesus always brings you joy, and if this does not happen to you, it is not a true encounter with Jesus.

And what Jesus does with the disciples tells us that the first to need to be evangelized are the disciples. The first who to need to be evangelized are us: we Christians. And this is very important. Immersed in today’s fast-pace and confused environment, we too indeed may find ourselves living our faith with a subtle sense of renunciation, persuaded that the Gospel is no longer heard and no longer worth striving to proclaim. We might even be tempted by the idea of letting “others” go their own way. Instead, this is precisely the time to return to the Gospel to discover that Christ “is forever young, he is forever a constant source of newness” (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 11).

Thus, like the two at Emmaus, one returns to daily life with the enthusiasm of one who has found treasure: they were joyful, those two, because they had found Jesus, and he changed their life. And one discovers that humanity abounds with brothers and sisters waiting for a word of hope. The Gospel is awaited even today. People of today are like people of all times: they need it. Even the civilization of programmed unbelief and institutionalized secularity; indeed, especially the society that leaves the spaces of religious meaning deserted, needs Jesus. This is the right moment for the proclamation of Jesus. Therefore, I would like to say again to everyone: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew”. Do not forget this. And if anyone does not perceive this joy, they should ask themselves if they have found Jesus. An inner joy. The Gospel takes the path of joy, always, it is the great proclamation. “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed … encounter with Jesus Christ (ibid., 1, 1.3) Each one of you, take a little time and think: “Jesus, you are within me. I want to encounter you every day. You are a Person, you are not an idea; you are a travelling companion, you are not a programme. You, Jesus, are the source of joy. You are the beginning of evangelization. You, Jesus, are the source of joy!”. Amen.


Pope Francis

22.11.23 General Audience, Saint Peter's Square

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 27. Proclamation is for everyone  

Matthew 28: 18-20

Dear brothers and sisters,

After having seen, last time, that the Christian proclamation is joy, today let us focus on a second aspect: it is for everyone, Christian proclamation is a joy for everyone. When we truly meet the Lord Jesus, the wonder of this encounter pervades our life and demands to be taken beyond us. He desires this, that His Gospel is for everyone. Indeed, in it there is a “humanizing power”, a fulfilment of life that is destined for every man and woman, because Christ was born, died, and rose again for everyone. For everyone: no-one excluded.

In Evangelii Gaudium we read that everyone has “a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction’” (no. 14). Brothers, sisters, let us feel that we are at the service of the universal destination of the Gospel, it is for everyone; and let us distinguish ourselves for our capacity to come out of ourselves. A proclamation, in order to be true, must leave behind one’s own selfishness – and let us also have the capacity to cross all borders. Christians meet on the parvis more than in the sacristy, and go “to the streets and lanes of the city” (Lk14:21). They must be open and expansive, Christians must be “extrovert”, and this character of theirs comes from Jesus, who make his presence in the world a continuous journey, aimed at reaching out to everyone, even learning from some of his encounters.

In this sense, the Gospel reports Jesus’ surprising encounter with a foreign woman, a Canaanite who begs him to cure her sick daughter (cf. Mt 15:21-28). Jesus refuses, saying that he was sent only “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and that “it is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (vv. 24, 26). But the woman, with the insistence typical of the simple, replies that “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (v. 27). Jesus is struck by this and says, “woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (v. 28). The encounter with this woman has something unique about it. Not only does someone make Jesus change his mind, and a woman, foreign and a pagan, but the Lord himself finds confirmation that his preaching should not be limited to the people to whom he belongs, but open to all.

The Bible shows us that when God calls a person and makes a pact with some of them, the criterion is always this: elect someone to reach others, this is the criterion of God, of God’s calling. All the Lord’s friends have experienced the beauty, but also the responsibility and the burden of being “chosen” by him. And everyone has felt discouragement in the face of their own weaknesses or the loss of their certainties. But perhaps the greatest temptation is that of considering the calling received as a privilege: please, no, the calling is not a privilege, ever. We cannot say that we are privileged compared to others – no. The calling is for a service. And God chooses one in order to love everyone, to reach everyone.

It is also to prevent the temptation of identifying Christianity with a culture, with an ethnicity, with a system. In this way, though, it loses its truly Catholic nature, or rather for everyone, universal: it is not a little group of first-class, chosen people. Let us not forget: God chooses some to love all. This horizon of universality. The Gospel is not only for me, it is for everyone; let us not forget this. Thank you.


Pope Francis

29.11.23 General Audience  Paul VI Audience Hall

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 28. Proclamation is for today   

1 Peter 3: 15-16

Dear brothers and sisters,

The last few times we saw that Christian proclamation is a joy, and it is for everyone; today we will see a third aspect: it is for today.

One almost always hears bad things being said about today. Certainly, with wars, climate change, worldwide injustice and migration, family and hope crises, there is no shortage of cause for concern. In general, today seems to be inhabited by a culture that puts the individual above all else and technology at the centre of everything, with its ability to solve many problems and its gigantic advances in so many fields. But at the same time, this culture of technical-individual progress leads to the affirmation of a freedom that does not want to set itself limits and is indifferent to those who fall behind. And so, it consigns great human aspirations to the often voracious logic of the economy, with a vision of life that discards those who do not produce and struggles to look beyond the immanent. We could even say that we find ourselves in the first civilization in history that globally seeks to organize a human society without the presence of God, concentrated in huge cities that remain horizontal despite their vertiginous skyscrapers.

The account of the city of Babel and its tower comes to mind (cf. Gen 11:1-9). It narrates a social project that involves sacrificing all individuality to the efficiency of the collective. Humanity speaks just one language – we might say that it has a “single way of thinking” – as if enveloped in a kind of general spell that absorbs the uniqueness of each into a bubble of uniformity. Then God confuses the languages, that is, He re-establishes differences, recreates the conditions for uniqueness to develop, revives the multiple where ideology would like to impose the single. The Lord also distracts humanity from its delirium of omnipotence: “Let us make a name for ourselves”, say the exalting inhabitants of Babel (v. 4), who want to reach up to heaven, to put themselves in God’s place. But these are dangerous, alienating, destructive ambitions, and the Lord, by confounding these expectations, protects mankind, preventing an impending disaster. This story really does seem topical: even today, cohesion, instead of fraternity and peace, is often based on ambition, nationalism, homologation, and techno-economic structures that inculcate the persuasion that God is insignificant and useless: not so much because one seeks more knowledge, but above all for the sake of more power. It is a temptation that pervades the great challenges of today’s culture.

In Evangelii Gaudium I tried to describe others (cf. nos. 52-75), but above all I called for “an evangelization capable of shedding light on these new ways of relating to God, to others and to the world around us, and inspiring essential values. It must reach the places where new narratives and paradigms are being formed, bringing the word of Jesus to the inmost soul of our cities” (no. 74). In other words, Jesus can be proclaimed only by inhabiting the culture of one’s own time; and always taking to heart the words of the Apostle Paul about the present: “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). There is therefore no need to contrast today with alternative visions from the past. Nor is it sufficient to simply reiterate acquired religious convictions that, however true, become abstract with the passage of time. A truth does not become more credible because one raises one’s voice in speaking it, but because it is witnessed with one’s life.

Apostolic zeal is never a simple repetition of an acquired style, but testimony that the Gospel is alive today here for us. Aware of this, let us therefore look at our age and our culture as a gift. They are ours, and evangelizing them does not mean judging them from afar, nor is it standing on a balcony and shouting out Jesus’ name, but rather going down onto the streets, going to the places where one lives, frequenting the spaces where one suffers, works, studies and reflects, inhabiting the crossroads where human beings share what has meaning for their lives. It means being, as a Church, a leaven for “dialogue, encounter, unity. After all, our own formulations of faith are the fruit of dialogue and encounter among cultures, communities and various situations. We must not fear dialogue: on the contrary, it is precisely confrontation and criticism that help us to preserve theology from being transformed into ideology” (Address at the Fifth National Congress of the Italian Church, Florence, 10 November 2015).

It is necessary to stand at the crossroads of today. Leaving them would impoverish the Gospel and reduce the Church to a sect. Frequenting them, on the other hand, helps us Christians to understand in a renewed way the reasons for our hope, to extract and share from the treasure of faith “what is new and what is old” (Mt 13:52). In short, more than wanting to convert the world of today, we need to convert pastoral care so that it better incarnates the Gospel in today (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 25). Let us make Jesus’ desire our own: to help fellow travellers not to lose the desire for God, to open their hearts to Him and find the only One who, today and always, gives peace and joy to humanity.


Pope Francis

06.12.23 General Audience,  Paul VI Audience Hall

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 29. The proclamation is in the Holy Spirit. 

Acts 1: 6-8

Dear brothers and sisters,

In the last catecheses we saw that the proclamation of the Gospel is joy, it is for everyone, and it is addressed to today. Now let us discover a final essential characteristic: it is necessary that the proclamation takes place in the Holy Spirit. Indeed, to “communicate God”, the joyful credibility of the testimony, the universality of the proclamation and the timeliness of the message are not enough. Without the Holy Spirit, all zeal is vain and falsely apostolic: it would only be our own and would not bear fruit.

In Evangelii gaudium I recalled that “Jesus is the first and greatest evangelizer”; that “in every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God”, who “called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit” (no. 12). Here is the primacy of the Holy Spirit! Thus, the Lord compares the dynamism of the Kingdom of God to “a man who scatters seed upon the ground and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how” (Mk 4:26-27). The Spirit is the protagonist; he always precedes the missionaries and makes the fruit grow. This knowledge comforts us a great deal! And it helps us to specify another, equally decisive: namely, that in her apostolic zeal the Church does not announce herself, but a grace, a gift, and the Holy Spirit is precisely the Gift of God, as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4:10).

The primacy of the Spirit should not, however, induce us to indolence. Confidence does not justify disengagement. The vitality of the seed that grows by itself does not authorize farmers to neglect the field. Jesus, in giving his last recommendations before ascending to heaven, said: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses ... to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The Lord has not left us theological lecture notes or a pastoral manual to apply, but the Holy Spirit who inspires the mission. And the courageous initiative that the Spirit instils in us leads us to imitate his style, which always has two characteristics: creativity and simplicity.

Creativity, to proclaim Jesus with joy, to everyone and today. In this age of ours, which does not help us have a religious outlook on life, and in which the proclamation has become in various places more difficult, arduous, apparently fruitless, the temptation to desist from pastoral service may arise. Perhaps one takes refuge in safety zones, like the habitual repetition of things one always does, or in the alluring calls of an intimist spirituality, or even in a misunderstood sense of the centrality of the liturgy. They are temptations that disguise themselves as fidelity to tradition, but often, rather than responses to the Spirit, they are reactions to personal dissatisfactions. Instead, pastoral creativity, being bold in the Spirit, ardent in his missionary fire, is the proof of fidelity to him. Therefore, I wrote that “Jesus can also break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him, and he constantly amazes us by his divine creativity. Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world” (Evangelii gaudium, 11).

Creativity, therefore; and then simplicity, precisely because the Spirit takes us to the source, to the “first proclamation”. Indeed, it is “the fire of the Spirit … [that] leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy” (ivi, no. 164). This is the first proclamation, which must “be the centre of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal”; to say over and over, “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (ibid).

Brothers and sisters, let us allow ourselves to be drawn by the Spirit and invoke him every day; may he be the source of our being and our work; may he be at the origin of every activity, encounter, meeting and proclamation. He enlivens and rejuvenates the Church: with him we must not fear, because he, who is harmony, always keeps creativity and simplicity together, inspires communion and sends out in mission, opens to diversity and leads back to unity. He is our strength, the breath of our proclamation, the source of apostolic zeal. Come, Holy Spirit!


Pope Francis

13.12.23 General Audience  Paul VI Audience Hall

Catechesis. The passion for evangelization: the apostolic zeal of the believer. 30. Ephphatha, Church, be open!  

Mark 7: 31-35

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we will conclude the series dedicated to apostolic zeal, in which we have allowed the Word of God to inspire us, to help nurture a passion for the proclamation of the Gospel. And this involves every Christian. Let us consider the fact that in Baptism, the celebrant, touching the ears and the lips of the baptized, says: “May the Lord Jesus, who made the deaf hear and the mute speak, grant that you may soon receive his word and profess the faith”. (cf. Mk 7:31-35).

And we have heard about the miracle of Jesus. The evangelist Mark goes to great lengths to describe where this took place: toward “the Sea of Galilee” (Mk 7:31). What do these two regions have in common? The fact that they were predominantly inhabited by pagans. They were not areas inhabited by Jews, but mostly by pagans.  The disciples went out with Jesus, who can open the ears and the  mouth, thus, the phenomenon of mutism, of deafness, which is also  metaphorical in  the Bible, signifying being closed to God’s calls. There is a physical deafness, but in the Bible, the one who is deaf to the Word of God is mute, and does not communicate the Word of God.

There is another indicative sign: the Gospel reports Jesus’ decisive word in Aramaic. Ephphatha which means “be open”, may the ears be open, may the tongue be open. And it is an invitation that is addressed not so much to the deaf man, who could not hear him, but precisely to the disciples of that time and of every age. We too, who have received the ephphatha of the Spirit in Baptism, are called to be open. “Be open”, Jesus says to every believer and to his Church: be open because the Gospel message needs you to witness  it and proclaim it! And this also makes us think about the attitude of Christians: Christians should be open to the Word of God and to service to others. Christians who are closed always end up badly because they are not Christians. They are ideologists of closure. A Christian should be open to the proclamation of the Word, and to welcoming brothers and sisters. And this is why ephphatha, this “be open”, is an invitation to us all to open ourselves.

Even at the end of the Gospel, Jesus entrusts us with his missionary desire: go beyond, go and tend, go and preach the Gospel.

Brothers, sisters, let us all feel called, as baptized people, to witness and proclaim Jesus. And let us ask for the grace, as Church, to bring about a pastoral and missionary conversion. On the banks of the Sea of Galilee, the Lord asked Peter if he loved him and then asked him to tend his sheep (cf. vv. 15-17). Let us too ask ourselves. Let each one of us ask ourselves this question, let us ask ourselves: Do I truly love the Lord to the point of wanting to proclaim him? Do I want to become his witness or am I content to be his disciple? Do I take to heart the people I meet, bringing them to Jesus in prayer? Do I want to do something so that the joy of the Gospel, which has transformed my life, may make their lives more beautiful? Let us think about this, let us think about these questions and go forward with our witness.