Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter
Evangelization and ecumenism
On that day, there broke out a severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made a loud lament over him. Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment. Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. Thus Philip went down to (the) city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing … There was great joy in that city. Acts 8,1b-8
This passage shows us the social turmoil that the birth the church set up in Jerusalem and in the regions of Judea and Samaria. Stephen’s martyrdom, the first Christians put to prison, others dispersed and healing that happened one after each other, as when Jesus was on earth, are a consequence of this birth. In this scene, we meet Paul who, despite already in the target of the Holy Spirit, is still an active persecutor of Christians. The Gospel starts spreading thanks to the early persecutions, such as the one described in today’s passage, and to the diaspora, with the direction of the Holy Spirit who also makes use of the most negative events in history in order to implement the program salvation of the world. The important thing is that there is life and growth, because the real danger for the church does not lie in the persecution, it lies in inactivity. It is the same risk that, even today, families and parishes run. When the Christian life becomes a habit and we defend the positions we have reached, the church suffers; when we proclaim the Gospel with courage and persecutions arise, the Church lives.
A few years ago, when we were more active inside the Charismatic Renewal, we often participated in ecumenical meetings between the different denominations of the church. We were attracted by the spirit of unity, but we lived those meetings with suffering, because it was impossible to proclaim the Gospel together. After the first announcement, Evangelization indeed requires the inclusion in the church. And how was it possible to achieve it, if our churches are separated? This is one of the problems for ecumenism, the other being the inability to participate together in the Eucharist, which is present only in the Catholic and the Orthodox Church. We experienced this second problem in all of its drama one day in 1989, during an ecumenical meeting held in Jerusalem. After we prayed and meditated on the Scriptures, we Catholics stood apart to celebrate the Eucharist, and the others remained to pray alone. How sad!