The episode narrated in the Acts of the Apostles that tells of the time Jesus first preached in Jerusalem and the attempts of the high priests and city leaders to stop the growth of the community of believers in Christ was the central theme of the Regina Coeli this third Sunday of Easter.
The Pope explained to the thousands of persons gathered in St. Peter's Square that the Twelve, who had been jailed with the order to not teach any more in Christ's name, responded to their persecutors: “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus … God exalted him at his right hand as leader and saviour … We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit.” “They then had the Apostles flogged and ordered them again not to speak any more in Jesus' name. And [the Twelve] went, as it says in Scripture, 'rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name' [of Jesus].”
“I ask myself,” the Bishop of Rome said, “ where did the first disciples find the strength for their witness? Not just that: Where did their joy and courage to proclaim, in spite of the obstacles and violence, come from? Let's not forget that the Apostles were simple people. They weren't scribes, doctors of the law, or members of the priestly class. How could they, with their limits and the opposition made to them by the authorities, 'have filled Jerusalem with your teaching'? It is clear that only the Risen Lord's presence to them and the Holy Spirit's action can explain this fact. … Their faith was based on such a strong and personal experience of Christ, died and risen, that they had no fear of anything or anyone. In fact, they saw persecution as a badge of honour that allowed them to follow in Jesus' footsteps and to be like him, witnessing with their lives.”
“This story of the first Christian community tells us something very important, which holds for the Church in every age, even for us: when a person truly knows Jesus Christ and believes in him, they experience his presence in their life and the strength of his Resurrection, and they cannot help but to communicate this experience. If this person encounters misunderstanding or adversity, they act as Jesus did at his Passion: they respond with love and with the strength of truth.”
“Praying the Regina Coeli together,” the Pope concluded, “we ask Mary Most Holy's assistance so that the Church throughout the world might proclaim, with sincerity and courage, the Lord's Resurrection, and might give effective witness to it with signs of fraternal love. Fraternal love is the closest witness that we can give that Jesus is alive with us, that Jesus is risen. Let us pray in a special way for the Christians who are suffering persecution. In these days there are many Christians who are suffering persecution, so very many in many countries. Let us pray wholeheartedly for them with love. May they feel the living and comforting presence of the Risen Lord.”
After the Regina Coeli, the Holy Father noted that yesterday, in Venice, Italy, Don Luca Passi, 19th century founder of the Pious Society of St. Dorothy for the Laity and the Institute of the Teaching Sisters of St Dorothy, was beatified. He also spoke of the Day of the Sacred Heart University, which is celebrated today in Italy, the theme of which is “New Generations: Beyond the Crisis” this year.
“This university,” he said, “born of the mind and heart of Fr. Agostino Gemelli, with great popular support, has trained thousands upon thousands of young people to be competent and responsible citizens, builders of the common good. I invite you to always support this University so that it might continue to offer an excellent education to new generations, so that they can face the challenges of our present time.”