Some 35,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square earlier today to hear Pope Benedict’s weekly Wednesday catechesis in which he urged Christians to live out their communion with Christ by taking the message of the Gospel “to the ends of the earth.”

Last week, the Pope began the first teaching series of his own choosing, opting to reflect on the calling and mission of the Apostles. He recently completed a ongoing catechesis on the Psalms and canticles, begun by his predecessor, John Paul II years ago.

The Holy Father began by pointing out that "St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians presents the Church as a structure 'built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.' ... The Gospels all agree in recounting that the call of the Apostles marked the first steps of Jesus' ministry."

He went on to highlight this call, as demonstrated in the various Gospel accounts. St. Mark and St. Matthew, he said, place the scene at the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus called the fishermen Simon, Andrew, James and John to be "fishers of men."

Alternately, he showed that Luke dwells on the miraculous catch of fish, "a symbol of their mission as fishers of men.”

He said that “The destiny of those 'called' will, from now on, be intimately linked to that of Jesus. The Apostle is an envoy, but prior to that he is an 'expert' on Jesus."

In the Gospel of John, Benedict explained that this same meeting took place on the banks of the River Jordan and "and throws light on [the Apostles'] spiritual world. They were men awaiting the Kingdom of God, anxious to know the Messiah Whose coming had been announced as imminent. And John the Baptist's identification of Jesus as the Lamb of God was sufficient to arouse in them the desire for a personal meeting with the Master."

"Thus”, Benedict said, “the Apostles' adventure began as an encounter between people who opened to one another."

He explained that they “began to have a direct knowledge of the Master. Indeed, more than proclaiming an idea, they will be witnesses to the person of Christ.”

“And before being sent to evangelize,” he added, “they will have to 'be' with Jesus, establishing a personal relationship with Him. On this basis, evangelization will be nothing other than the announcement of what they experienced and an invitation to enter into the mystery of communion with Christ."

The Pope dispelled the idea that Christ limited the apostles' mission to Israel alone when he said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
In fact, he showed that these words must be seen in the context of Israel as a "community of the covenant.”

“According to messianic expectation,” Benedict said, “the divine promises will be fulfilled when God Himself, through His Chosen One, gathers His people together, like a shepherd his flock."

"Jesus”, the pontiff said, “is the eschatological shepherd Who gathers the lost sheep of the house of Israel and goes out to seek them, because He knows and loves them.”

“By this 'gathering,' the Kingdom of God is announced to all people," he said, adding that after Jesus' passion and resurrection, "the universal nature of the Apostles' mission became explicit. Christ will send the Apostles 'into all the world,' to 'all nations,' and 'to the end of the earth'."