REGISTER SUMMARY Pope Benedict XVI met with 6,000 pilgrims in the Paul VI Hall during his general audience on Jan. 17. The focus of his teaching was the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Holy Father exhorted the faithful “to spend these days in a climate of prayerful listening to the Spirit of God so that we will make significant steps on the path towards full and perfect communion among all Christ’s disciples.”
Dear brothers and sisters,
Tomorrow we will begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which I will personally draw to a close on Jan. 25 during a celebration of vespers at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls to which representatives of the various Churches and Church communities in Rome have been invited.
The period of Jan. 18-25 — and in other parts of the world the week of Pentecost — is an important time of commitment and prayer for all Christians, who are able to make use of the many resources jointly produced by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.
I have grown aware of the deep desire for unity in the meetings that I have had with representatives of Churches and Church communities over the course of the years, and in a very moving way, during my recent visit with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Istanbul, Turkey. Next Wednesday [Jan. 24], I will reflect at length on these and other experiences that have made me more hopeful.
Undoubtedly, the road to unity is still long and difficult. Yet, we must not grow discouraged and we must continue the journey, counting, first of all, on the sure support of Christ who, before ascending into heaven, promised his followers, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Unity is a gift from God and a fruit of the work of his Spirit. For this reason, it is important to pray. The closer we grow to Christ and are transformed by his love, the closer we will grow to each other.
In some countries, including Italy, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is preceded by a Day of Jewish-Christian Reflection, which is being celebrated today, Jan. 17.
About two decades ago, the Italian Bishops’ Conference dedicated a day to Judaism in order to promote knowledge and respect for Judaism and foster a relationship of mutual friendship between the Christian and Jewish communities, a relationship that developed positively after the Second Vatican Council and after the historic visit by the Servant of God, John Paul II, to Rome’s main synagogue. In order to grow and bear fruit, Jewish-Christian friendship must also be based on prayer.
Therefore, I invite everyone to fervently turn to the Lord so that Christians and Jews may grow in respect and esteem for each other and work together for justice and peace.
The biblical theme for this year’s week of common prayer and reflection is “He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” (Mark 7:37). These words are from the Gospel of Mark and refer to when Jesus healed the man who was deaf and mute. In this brief passage, the evangelist recounts that the Lord, after putting his fingers in the ears of the deaf man and touching his tongue with his saliva, performed a miracle saying, “Ephphatha,” which means “Be opened!” Upon recovering his hearing and the gift of speech, this man aroused the admiration of the others by telling them what happened to him. Through baptism, Christians, who are spiritually deaf and mute because of original sin, receive the gift of the Lord himself, who puts his fingers on their faces.
Through the grace of baptism, they are able to hear God’s word and proclaim it to their brothers and sisters. Moreover, from that moment on, their task is to grow in maturity in their knowledge and love of Christ in order to be able to proclaim and give witness to the Gospel in an effective way.
This theme, which highlights two aspects of the mission of every Christian community — the proclamation of the Gospel and a witness to charity — also emphasizes the importance of translating Christ’s message into concrete initiatives of solidarity. They will foster the path towards unity because every bit of relief — however small — that Christians offer together to alleviate their neighbor’s suffering also contributes to making their communion and their faithfulness to the Lord’s commandment more visible.
An Ongoing Commitment
However, prayer for Christian unity cannot be limited to one week of the year. Together, Christians must ask the Lord each day of the year to bring about in a way and a time that is known to him alone full unity among all his disciples. Moreover, the harmonization of their efforts of service, or diakonia, to relieve man’s sufferings, the search for the truth of Christ’s message and conversion and penance are necessary stages in which every Christian worthy of the name must join with his brother and implore the gift of unity and communion.
I exhort you, therefore, to spend these days in a climate of prayerful listening to the Spirit of God so that we will make significant steps on the path towards full and perfect communion among all Christ’s disciples.
May the Virgin Mary, whom we invoke as Mother of the Church and help of all Christians, sustain us on our journey to Christ!
of the Jan. 17 weekly catechesis.