Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter
The early Christians
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that arose because of Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but Jews. There were some … among them, however, who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks as well, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. … The news about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas (to go) to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord. Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. Acts 11,19-26
As the spring wind takes away the spores from the trees and, where they land, there other trees are born, so the diaspora of the first Church of Jerusalem, caused by the wind of persecutions, gave birth to other churches throughout the eastern basin of the Mediterranean Sea. In today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles, there is the news of the birth of the first Christian community in Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. At the beginning, the message of the Gospel spread among the Jews who had previously left Palestine, and then take root among the Greeks and other neighbour peoples. Churches were born in Ephesus, in Philippi, in Thessalonica, in Galatia, Corinth; in the beginning, it was thank to Paul and Barnabas, then to Paul and Silas, and the other apostles that the book of Acts does not mention, because it essentially tells Peter and Paul’s apostolic activity. While in Corinth, Paul begins to think of transferring the headquarters of his evangelization in Rome, which was then the capital of the world. His missionary program was meant to arrive in Spain and then to push forward to the Pillars of Hercules, now the Straits of Gibraltar, then regarded as the end of the known land. So, in the year 57 A.D. he wrote the Jewish community in Rome the famous Epistle to the Romans in order to pave the way to that program. A few years later, he moved to Rome, where he was also joined by Peter and where, ten years later, both died as martyrs. In our living room, we keep a relic which dates back to that glorious period when Christianity spread, which has been given us by father Pigi, parish priest of Saint Eustorgio church, the oldest one in Milan, built in 400. It is a tangible sign which has come to us of the evangelization in Northern Italy. The missionary adventure of the early Christians was a wonderful epic, which makes us think and helps us to live our mission today. You cannot be true Christians if we are not missionaries.