Vatican City — Believing in eternity and in the final establishment of the kingdom of God, Christians throughout history -- starting with the disciples -- were filled with questions such as when the end will come and what will happen to the created world, Pope Francis said.
No one knows the answer to those questions, the pope said Wednesday at his weekly general audience, but Catholics are convinced that the end of time will not bring the "annihilation of the cosmos and of everything around us."
God's plan, he said, is to renew everything in Christ and "bring everything to its fullness of being, truth and beauty."
A few thousand people gathered under umbrellas in St. Peter's Square for the rainy Wednesday audience; Pope Francis thanked them for braving the weather and promised, "We will pray together."
Continuing a series of audience talks about the church, Pope Francis spoke about the place of the church in the world to come, and how Christians can make sure they and their loved ones will be part of it.
While the human imagination struggles to picture what the kingdom of God will be like, he said, people can be sure that everything "deformed by sin" will pass away. Quoting the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, he said, "God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart."
"This is where the church is heading," he said. "More than a place, it is a state of the soul where our deepest aspirations will be fulfilled with abundance."
At the end of time, he said, "we will be face to face" with God. "It's beautiful to think about this, isn't it, to think about heaven. All of us will be there, all of us. It's beautiful and gives us strength."
The communion of the church cannot be broken by death and will only be stronger at the end of time, he said. "It is a deep communion between the church in heaven and that still journeying on earth. Those who already are living in the presence of God, in fact, can support, intercede and pray for us."
And, Christians on earth, he said, "are called to offer good works, prayers and the [celebration of the] Eucharist to alleviate the tribulation of the souls still awaiting blessedness without end."
The prayers for those in purgatory, the pope said, make sense because from a Catholic point of view, "the distinction is not between those who have died and those who have not yet, but between those who are in Christ and those who are not. This is the decisive element for our salvation and happiness."
At the end of the audience, Pope Francis told people he would be making a trip to Turkey from Friday to Sunday to meet government officials, Muslim leaders and, especially, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. The meeting with the patriarch takes place on the feast of St. Andrew, the patron of the patriarchate.
"I ask you all to pray that this visit of Peter to his brother Andrew will bring fruits of peace, sincere dialogue among religions and harmony in the Turkish nation," the pope said.