Pope Reflects on Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Personal conversions are key to unity, Benedict XVI said Jan. 22. The Holy Father says Catholics and all Christians must pray for unity, which is a call from Christ himself: 'that they may all be one.'
VATICAN CITY (EWTN News/CNA)—Pope Benedict XVI said that Christian unity can be achieved only through personal conversions rooted in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“We are called to contemplate the victory of Christ over sin and death, that his resurrection is an event that transforms those who believe in him and opens them up to them a incorruptible and immortal life,” said the Pope during his Sunday Angelus address from the window of his Apostolic Palace on Jan. 22.
He told the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square to “recognize and accept the transforming power of faith in Jesus Christ that sustains Christians also in the search for full unity among themselves.”
The Pope’s comments come in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which runs from Jan. 18-25. It is being marked by 300-plus churches and Christian communities around the world.
Pope Benedict paid particular attention to the words of St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians, which state that “we will all be changed by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The phrase was chosen as the motto for this year’s Christian Unity Week by the Polish Ecumenical Council.
“Poland has known a long history of courageous struggles against various adversities and has repeatedly shown great determination, animated by faith,” the Pope observed.
“Over the centuries, Polish Christians have instinctively perceived a spiritual dimension in their desire for freedom” and have realized that “true victory can only come in accompanied by a profound inner transformation.”
The experience of the Polish nation should illustrate to everybody, the Pope suggested, that “our search for unity can be conducted in a realistic manner if change occurs primarily within ourselves.”
Christian unity can be more readily achieved if “we allow God to act, if we let ourselves be transformed in the image of Christ, if we enter into new life in Christ, which is the real victory,” he said.
The “visible unity,” of all Christians “is always a work that comes from above, from God, by asking for the humility to recognize our weakness and to accept the gift.”
The Pope then reminded pilgrims of the words of his predecessor, Blessed Pope John Paul II, who used to say that “every gift also becomes a commitment.”
Thus, he added, “our daily commitment is to be open to one another in charity.”
The Pope concluded by looking forward to the vespers of the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, which he will preside over at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on Jan. 25. There he will be joined by the leaders of numerous other Christian churches and communities.
Jan. 18 story below.
VATICAN CITY (EWTN News/CNA)—Pope Benedict XVI said today that achieving Christian unity requires more than “cordiality and cooperation” and that it must be accompanied by interior conversion.
“Faith in Christ and interior conversion, both individual and communal, must constantly accompany our prayer for Christian unity,” said the Pope to more than 8,000 pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall on Jan. 18.
The Pope’s comments mark the start of the 2012 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that runs until Jan. 25. It will be observed by more than 300 Christian churches and ecclesial communities around the globe.
The Pope asked for “the Lord in a particular way to strengthen the faith of all Christians, to change our hearts and to enable us to bear united witness to the Gospel.”
In this way, he said, they “will contribute to the New Evangelization and respond ever more fully to the spiritual hunger of the men and women of our time.”
The Pope explained that the concept of a week of prayer for Christian unity was initiated in 1908 by Paul Wattson, an Episcopalian minister from Maryland. One year later, he became a Catholic and was subsequently ordained to the priesthood.
Pope Benedict recalled how the initiative was supported by his predecessors Popes St. Pius X and Benedict XV. It was then “developed and perfected” in the 1930s by the Frenchman Abbé Paul Couturier, who promoted prayer “for the unity of the Church as Christ wishes and according to the means he wills.”
The mandate for the week of prayer, the Pope underscored, comes from the wish of Christ himself at the Last Supper: “that they may all be one.” He observed that this mission was given a particular impetus by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), but added that “the unity we strive for cannot result merely from our own efforts.” Rather, “it is a gift we receive and must constantly invoke from on high.”
The theme for 2012’s Week of Prayer, “All shall be changed by the victory of Jesus Christ our Lord,” was crafted by the Polish Ecumenical Council. Pope Benedict said it reflects “their own experience as a nation,” which stayed faithful to Christ “in the midst of trials and upheavals,” including years of occupation by the Nazis and later the Communists.
The Pope tied the victory the Polish people experienced over their oppressors to overcoming the disunity that marks Christians.
He said that the “unity for which we pray requires inner conversion, both shared and individual,” and it cannot be “limited to cordiality and cooperation.” Instead, Christians must accept “all the elements of unity which God has conserved for us.”
Ecumenism, the Pope stated, is not an optional extra for Catholics, but is “the responsibility of the entire Church and of all the baptized.” Christians, he said, must make praying for unity an “integral part” of their prayer life, “especially when people from different traditions come together to work for victory in Christ over sin, evil, injustice and the violation of human dignity.”
Pope Benedict then touched on the lack of unity in the Christian community, which he said “hinders the effective announcement of the Gospel and endangers our credibility.”
Evangelizing formerly Christian countries and spreading the Gospel to new places will be “more fruitful if all Christians together announce the truth of the Gospel and Jesus Christ and give a joint response to the spiritual thirst of our times,” he explained.
The Pope concluded his comments with the hope that this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will lead to “increased shared witness, solidarity and collaboration among Christians, in expectation of that glorious day when together we will all be able to celebrate the sacraments and profess the faith transmitted by the apostles.”
The general audience finished with Pope Benedict addressing pilgrims in various languages, including greeting a group of men and women from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, before leading the crowd in the Our Father and imparting his apostolic blessing.
A group of 30 children from National Tumor Institute in Milan, Italy, visited Pope Benedict XVI at the end of the general audience.
The chaplain of the institute, Father Tullio Proserpio, told Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano that it was the “sixth time we have begun the year with a pilgrimage to Rome, which is a time of hope for all those who themselves experience suffering.”
“Families who say they aren’t believers but who did not want to miss this experience of common hope also participated in the meeting with the Holy Father,” he explained Jan. 18.
In his message for the 20th World Day of the Sick, which will be commemorated Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Pope Benedict XVI said the fundamental task of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom of God, which should be “a process (of) healing” for the brokenhearted.
The Pope first expressed his closeness “to all sick people who are in places of care or are looked after in their families, expressing to each one of them the solicitude and the affection of the whole Church.
“In the generous and loving welcoming of every human life, above all of weak and sick life, a Christian expresses an important aspect of his or her Gospel witness, following the example of Christ, who bent down before the material and spiritual sufferings of man in order to heal them.”