– Miguel Augusto
Recently the Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Apostles St Peter and St Paul (June 29). Each with his mission, both are considered the pillars of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church. In March of this year, we reported on the new movie “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” The Diocesan Social Communication Center did their best to bring the film to Cineteatro, but it was difficult because no distributor in Hong Kong had the movie available. However, those who long to see this work can do it through iTunes. The film is already available in the iTunes Macau Store. It portrays the last years of the Apostle Paul in prison, his condemnation to death (decapitated) by the Roman Empire, and his relationship with the apostle Luke and the early Christian communities, who lived oppressed and persecuted. Paul, for the richness of his New Testament legacy and a living martyr during his apostolate, served as an icon for those responsible for the film, to pay tribute to all the martyrs of Christianity, especially those of the first centuries and by the domination of the emperor Nero. We also take this opportunity to honor and extol the courage and faith of these brothers, who were seeds and roots through which the Church of Christ flourished.
In AD 64, a fire broke out in Rome, which devastated much of the city. In an attempt to deflect the charges against him, Emperor Nero blamed the fire on the Christian community, on which other slanderous charges were circulating. Offering the people motives of amusement, he had the Christians arrested and subjected to various tortures (crucifixion, live torches…) which served as spectacles for the people, inside the imperial garden, the so-called circus of Nero. Being a Christian meant risking one’s life!
A period of great hostility towards Christians began, which lasted until AD 67. St Paul and St Peter were martyrs, as were almost all the apostles of Jesus. The apostle Peter was crucified in the place where the St Peter’s Basilica later appeared; and St Paul – known as the Apostle of the Gentiles – was beheaded.
An account of the pagan historian Tacitus – extracted from his work Annals, written at the beginning of the second century (between AD 115 and 120) – on the persecution of Christians by Emperor Nero, shortly after the burning of Rome, describes very well the historical and gloomy context that these martyrs lived: “No human means, nor the gestures of generosity of the emperor (Nero), nor the rites destined to placate (the wrath) of the gods, made to stop the infamous rumor that the fire had been planned in the high spheres. So, to try to stifle this rumor, Nero accused, blamed, and delivered the most depressing tortures, to a group of people who were detested by his behavior, and whom the people called ‘Christians’. This name comes from Christ, (a man) who in the time of Tiberius had been delivered to the torture by the procurator Pontius Pilate. (…)
“Their execution was added to ridicule, covering them with animal skins – so that they were bitten by dogs – or hanging them on crosses – so that they would serve as living torches to light the night. (…)
“In this way, even if these men were guilty and deserved to be punished with rigor, they would finally arouse compassion, considering that they were not sacrificed for the sake of the nation, but for the cruelty of one man.”
This is the historical context in which the film about the Apostle Paul must be seen.
Paul, who also persecuted the first Christians, became a fervent Christian himself, and an untiring evangelist throughout the Mediterranean region, after his conversion on the road to Damascus when Jesus spoke to him. And even in the twilight of life, he appears serene, without making any judgments; he promotes love among men, ready to offer himself as a sacrifice and continuing to send some recommendations to his children in faith. Luke, with great risk, visits Paul in prison to comfort him, transcribing and clandestinely taking Paul’s letters to the growing community of Christians, in order to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and passing on a message of Paul’s deep and sincere love for all. Even worn out and facing all adversity, it gives a true testimony of faith and encouragement. He feels that even though he has nothing, he is filled with the love of Christ, and wants each one to reflect that love, to mirror Jesus in his eyes and in his life.
Paul wants to convey that he is not afraid of his death. Rather, he fears the threats that Christians still have to face, and that can weaken their faith: “At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Tim 4:16-18).
St Paul and St Peter and the other apostles, as well as all the first followers of Christ who gave their lives for Him, also give meaning to our faith and are a light on our way; inexhaustible strength and wisdom in the ways of the Lord.
Let us learn from them the plan of God for each one of us. When we put a lens in the sun, and we focus the light that passes through it on a sheet of paper, it ignites. May our focus be on Christ and our love for Him, the true Way, the truth and the life! The means that lead us to the Lord are many, but sometimes we live the faith in superficiality, parked in an insecure port, carried by the enemy, who wants to take us to the abyss of weakness and uncertainty, in a daily “Protestant” way of living in communion with Heaven: each one being governed by his own ideas, feelings and passions, putting aside the Sacred Tradition and the sacred Magisterium of the Church, which guarantees us the North in the troubled sea of our faith.
In the persecutions that Peter and Paul were subjected, when they were taken to the presence of the Sanhedrin, and questioned by the High Priest, we remember a “voice” in the Scriptures, that illuminates our faith. A man in the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, respected by all the people, said these wise words: “So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God” (see Acts of the Apostles, 5:27-39).
Today, the work reveals itself to be God’s by the prophecy of Gamaliel, and will endure for ever and ever. Amen!