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Prayer for the Unity of Christians - 2003

We have this treasure in clay jars
Theme from 2 Corinthians 4, 4-18

Preparatory material churches in Argentina, meeting at Los Rubios, Spain

Pope John Paul II's Homily at Vespers
at the Conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

1. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels" (2 Cor 4:7).

These words, taken from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, have been the guiding theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which concludes today. They shed light on our meditation during this evening liturgy of the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. The Apostle reminds us that we carry the "treasure" which Christ has given us in earthen vessels. All Christians are thus called to press forward on their earthly pilgrimage without letting themselves be overwhelmed by difficulties or afflictions (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8), in the certainty that they will overcome all obstacles thanks to the help and the power which come from on high.

With this conviction, I am happy to pray this evening together with you, beloved brothers and sisters of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities present in Rome, united by the one Baptism in the Lord Jesus Christ. I offer a heartfelt greeting to all of you.

It is my great desire that the Church of Rome, which Providence has entrusted with a unique "presidency in charity" (Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans, Introduction), may increasingly become a model of fraternal ecumenical relations.

2. As Christians, we know that we are called to bear witness before the world to the "glorious Gospel" which Christ has given to us (cf. 2 Cor 4:4). In his name, let us unite our efforts in order to be at the service of peace and reconciliation, justice and solidarity, especially at the side of the poor and the least of the earth.

In this context, I would like to recall the Day of Prayer for World Peace held in Assisi one year ago, on 24 January. That interreligious event sent a powerful message to the world: every authentically religious person is obliged to ask God for the gift of peace, with renewed determination to promote and build peace together with other believers. The theme of peace remains as urgent as ever. It makes particular demands on the followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace, and it represents a challenge and a commitment for the ecumenical movement.

3. In response to the one Spirit who guides the Church, we wish this evening to offer thanks to God for the many abundant fruits which he, the giver of every good gift, has lavished upon the path of ecumenism. In addition to the Assisi meeting, which saw the participation of high-level representatives of almost all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of East and West, how can I fail to mention the visit to Rome last March of a Delegation from the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece? In June I joined Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in signing the Common Declaration on safeguarding the environment. In May I had the joy of visiting Patriarch Maxim of Bulgaria, and in October I was visited by Patriarch Teoctist of Romania, with whom I also signed a Common Declaration. Nor can I forget the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, at the conclusion of his mandate, my meetings with Ecumenical Delegations of Ecclesial Communities of the West, and the progress made by the various mixed Commissions of dialogue.

At the same time we cannot fail to acknowledge realistically the difficulties, the problems and at times the disappointments which we still encounter. At times we sense a certain weariness, a lack of fervour, while still experiencing the pain that we are not yet able to share the Eucharistic Banquet. But the Holy Spirit never ceases to surprise us and he continues to work extraordinary wonders.

4. In the present situation of ecumenism, it is important to realize that only the Spirit of God is in a position to give us full visible unity; only the Spirit of God can inspire new fervour and courage. This is why we need to stress the importance of spiritual ecumenism, which constitutes the soul of the whole ecumenical movement. (Cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 6-8).

This does not mean in any way lessening or downplaying theological dialogue, which has borne abundant fruits in recent decades. Such dialogue remains, as always, an indispensable task. In fact, unity between the followers of Christ can only be a unity in truth (cf. Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint, 18-19). The Spirit guides us towards this goal also through theological dialogues, which represent a sure occasion of mutual enrichment.

Only in the Holy Spirit, however, is it possible to receive the truth of the Gospel, binding for everyone in its depth. Spiritual ecumenism opens our eyes and our hearts to the understanding of revealed truth, and enables us to recognize it and welcome it, thanks also to the insights of other Christians.

5. Spiritual ecumenism takes place above all through prayer raised up to God, in common whenever possible. Like Mary and the disciples after the Lord’s Ascension, it is important that we continue to come together and call untiringly upon the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:12,14). To prayer we must also add listening to the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, the foundation and sustenance of our faith (cf. Dei Verbum, 21-25). For there can be no ecumenical rapprochement without conversion of heart, personal sanctification and renewal of ecclesial life.

Communities of consecrated life and recent spiritual movements have a particular role in fostering an encounter with the ancient and venerable Churches of the East, imbued with the spirit of monasticism. There are encouraging signs of a promising revival of spiritual life in the Ecclesial Communities of the West too, and I am gladdened by the helpful exchanges taking place between all these diverse Christian groups.

Nor should we overlook the instances in which the clergy of other Churches attend Catholic Universities: guests at our seminaries, they take part in student life in accordance with the ecclesial discipline in force. Experience has shown that this leads to mutual enrichment.

6. The hope that we express together today is that the spirituality of communion will grow ever stronger! As I wrote in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, may each of us be enabled more and more to look upon our brothers and sisters in faith, within the unity of the Mystical Body, as "those who are a part of me", in order to be "able to share their joys and sufferings".

May we come to see "what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a ‘gift for me’". Let there be no mistake: without an authentic spirituality of communion, external structures of communion "would become mechanisms without a soul, ‘masks’ of communion rather than its means of expression and growth" (No. 43).

Let us continue, then, with courage and patience along this path, trusting in the power of the Spirit! It is not for us to set time frames or deadlines; the Lord’s promise is enough for us.

Strengthened by the word of Christ, we shall not give in to weariness, but rather shall intensify our efforts and our prayer for unity. May his invitation echo in our hearts tonight and bring us comfort: "Duc in altum!". Let us go forward, placing our trust always in him! Amen!

JPII - Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Rome - Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, 25 January 2003

Papa Giovanni Paolo II's Address during the Week of Prayer for Unity
- English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Brothers and Sisters,
1. The Lord founded the "one" and "only" Church. In the Nicene Creed we profess: "I believe [in] the one holy catholic and apostolic Church". The Second Vatican Council reminds us: "Yet many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true heritage of Jesus Christ. To be sure, all proclaim themselves to be the disciples of the Lord, but their convictions clash and their paths diverge as if Christ himself were divided" (Unitatis redintegratio, n. 1).

Unity is a great gift, a gift that we bear in fragile and breakable vessels of clay. How realistic this affirmation is, has been shown by the vicissitudes of the Christian community down through the centuries.

In virtue of the faith that unites us, all of us Christians are bound, each according to his own vocation, to re-establish full communion, the valuable "treasure" left us by Christ. With a pure and sincere heart, we should work tirelessly to accomplish this evangelical mandate. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity brings us back to this basic task and offers us the chance to gather for prayer in our own Churches and ecclesial communities, and in joint gatherings with Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, so that with one voice and heart we may pray for the precious gift of full unity.

2. "We have this treasure in vessels of clay" (II Cor 4,7). St Paul says this when speaking about the apostolic ministry that consists in making the splendour of the Gospel shine forth for humanity and observes: "We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; as for ourselves, we are your servants for the sake of Jesus Christ" (ibid., 5). He knows the burden and difficulty of evangelization, as well as human frailty. He knows well that the treasure of the Christian kerygma entrusted to us in vessels of clay is transmitted by weak instruments, "to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us" (ibid., 7). No enemy will ever succeed in supplanting the proclamation of the Gospel or in suppressing the voice of the Apostle who confesses: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed" (v. 8). He added, "We too believe and so we speak" (v. 13).

3. At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed for his disciples "that they all might be one as you Father are in me and I in you" (Jn 17,20-21). Unity is the "treasure" that he gave them. It is a treasure that presents two characteristics. On the one hand, unity expresses fidelity to the Gospel, and, on the other, as the Lord himself stated, it is a condition that all might believe that he is the one sent by the Father. For this reason, the unity of the Christian community is oriented to the evangelization of all peoples.

Despite the sublimity and greatness of this gift, human weakness has brought about its incomplete acceptance and appreciation. In the past, the relations between Christians have at times been characterized by opposition, and even at times, by mutual hatred. As the Second Vatican Council rightly recalled, all that is a "stumbling block" for the world and "damage" for the preaching of the Gospel (cf. Unitatis redintegratio, n. 1).

4. Yes, the gift of unity is contained in "vessels of clay" that can break and for this reason demand the greatest care. It is necessary to cultivate among Christians a love that is dedicated to overcoming the differences; it is necessary to make the effort to overcome every barrier with unceasing prayer, with persevering dialogue, and with fraternal and concrete cooperation in helping the poorest and the neediest.

The strong yearning for unity must never be wanting in the daily life of the Churches and ecclesial communities nor in the life of the faithful. From this perspective, I thought it useful to suggest a joint reflection on the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, established as "perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity" (Lumen gentium, n. 23) in order "to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation" (Ut unum sint, n. 95). May the Holy Spirit enlighten the pastors and theologians of our Churches in this patient and certainly profitable dialogue.

5. Looking at the whole ecumenical scene, I feel duty bound to thank the Lord for the distance travelled till now, both for the quality of the fraternal relations knitted among the different communities and for the results of the theological dialogues, even if they are different in their methods and levels. We can say that today Christians are more close-knit and solidary, even if the road toward unity continues to be uphill with its obstacles and bottlenecks. Following the path indicated by the Lord, they advance with confidence, because they know that they are accompanied by the Risen Lord, as the disciples of Emmaus, toward the goal of full ecclesial communion that actually leads to the common "breaking of the Bread".

6. Dearest Brothers and Sisters, St Paul invites us to vigilance, perseverance and confidence, indispensable dimensions of the ecumenical mandate.

To this end, we pray together to the Lord in this "Week of Prayer" with the prayer taken from the prepared text: "Holy Father, despite our weakness, you have made us witnesses of hope, faithful disciples of your Son. We carry this treasure in vessels of clay and we fear we may fail in the face of sufferings and evil. At times, we even doubt the power of the word of Jesus, who said, "that they all may be one'. Give us again the experience of the glory that shines on the face of Christ, so that in all our actions, our dedication, and our life we may proclaim to the world that He is alive and at work among us". Amen."

JPII - General Audience, Wednesday 22 January 2003 - © Copyright 2003 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Réflexion du Cardinal Kasper à l'occasion de la semaine de prière pour l'unité des chrétiens
- in French & Portuguese

"A partir du Concile Vatican II, le rapprochement entre l'Eglise catholique et les autres Eglises et Communautés ecclésiales a accompli de grands progrès. Les pierres milliaires de ce chemin ont été, en particulier, l'abrogation des excommunications de 1054 entre Rome et Constantinople, les Déclarations christologiques avec les antiques Eglises d'Orient et la signature de la Déclaration commune sur la Doctrine de la Justification avec la Fédération luthérienne mondiale. Le véritable fruit du dialogue oecuménique est cependant la fraternité que les chrétiens ont retrouvée. Aujourd'hui, en effet, nous ne nous considérons plus comme des ennemis ou des concurrents, nous ne sommes plus indifférents les uns aux autres. Nous avons redécouvert que nous sommes des frères et soeurs en marche vers la pleine unité, l'unité voulue par le Christ. Cette découverte n'a pas été le résultat d'un philanthropisme libéral ou d'un vague esprit de famille; elle se fonde sur la reconnaissance de l'unique baptême (cf. Encyclique Ut unum sint, n. 42).

Les grands événements oecuméniques du Jubilé de l'An 2000, les visites du Pape dans plusieurs pays à majorité orthodoxe et les visites accomplies par les Patriarches orthodoxes à Rome, comme par exemple celle du Patriarche de l'Eglise orthodoxe roumaine, Sa Béatitude Théoctiste, l'année dernière, ainsi que les "Journées de Prière pour la Paix dans le monde" d'Assise en 1986 et en 2002, ont souligné les progrès oecuméniques accomplis jusqu'à présent. Ce chemin de rapprochement, comme l'a plusieurs fois rappelé le Saint-Père, est irréversible. Il a été tracé pour nous par le Christ lui-même qui, à la veille de sa mort, a prié afin que "tous soient un" (Jn 17, 21).

Malgré ces progrès, on ne peut manquer de s'apercevoir que le rapprochement oecuménique, au cours des dernières années, s'est ralenti et qu'il apparaît aussi plus las. L'enthousiasme originel, qui naissait souvent d'attentes utopiques, fait défaut, et de nouvelles difficultés sont apparues. Après le bouleversement politique des années 89-90, est réapparue avec les Eglises orthodoxes la question de ce qu'on appelle l'"uniatisme". En ce qui concerne le dialogue avec les Communautés ecclésiales d'Occident, les plus grandes difficultés se concentrent surtout sur la question ecclésiologique et, en particulier, sur le ministère ecclésial. La situation est devenue plus complexe également en raison de l'existence de répon-ses différentes apportées à certains problèmes éthiques fondamentaux. Nous sommes toujours plus déçus de constater qu'il n'est pas encore possible de participer ensemble à la table du Seigneur.

Dans cette situation, un activisme accru ne suffit pas à faire progresser le mouvement. Nous ne devons certainement pas pour autant diminuer notre engagement et devons continuer à faire de notre mieux, mais l'unité de l'Eglise ne se réalise pas grâce à nos seules forces et à notre volonté humaine. L'unité est un don de l'Esprit Saint. Nous pouvons seulement prier afin que Dieu fasse descendre son Esprit sur nous et nous accorde une nouvelle Pentecôte. Dans une situation devenue aujourd'hui plus difficile, nous devons tout d'abord faire référence aux racines spirituelles les plus profondes de notre engagement oecuménique.

Le Concile Vatican II a parlé du mouvement oecuménique comme d'une impulsion de l'Esprit Saint (cf. Unitatis redintegratio, n. 14) et a souligné: "Cette conversion du coeur et cette sainteté de vie, unie aux prières publiques et privées pour l'unité des chrétiens, doivent être regardées comme l'âme de tout l'oecuménisme et peuvent à bon droit être appelées oecuménisme spiri-tuel" (cf. Unitatis redintegratio, n. 8). Et c'est précisément de la force dynamique de l'Esprit Saint que nous avons besoin pour imprimer un nouvel élan à notre engagement oecuménique.

La "Semaine de Prière pour l'unité des chrétiens", organisée par le Père Paul Irénée Couturier en 1933, est con-sidérée à juste titre comme un événement fondateur du mouvement oecuménique. Cette "Semaine" du mois de janvier, dont la conclusion coïncide avec la fête de la conversion de l'Apôtre Paul le 25 janvier et qui, dans certains pays, est célébrée à la Pentecôte, constitue le centre et le sommet des activités oecuméniques de l'année liturgique. En plus de celle-ci, il faut mentionner d'autres initiatives et réalités spirituelles. Je rappelle, par exemple, la "Journée mondiale de prière des femmes", commencée en 1927; la puissante force spirituelle qui émane de la Communauté de Taizé et qui interpelle surtout les jeunes; le réseau mondial de l'"Arche" fondée par Jean Vanier en 1964 et composée de communautés de personnes porteuses de handicap; les nombreux monastères et mouvements spirituels dont le charisme est précisément la prière pour l'unité; l'échange spirituel entre monastères en Occident et en Orient, entre communautés religieuses et communautés anglicanes et évangéliques.

La lecture et la méditation de l'Ecriture Sainte est très importante. En effet, la Bible est le fondement commun et la nourriture spirituelle dont toutes les Eglises et Communautés ecclésiales tirent leur inspiration. C'est à propos de l'Ecriture Sainte et de son interprétation que les catholiques et les protestants se sont divisés; c'est dans l'Ecriture Sainte qu'ils doivent aujourd'hui se retrouver. Nous apprenons de la Bible que nous ne pouvons pas être chrétiens et qu'il ne peut pas exister d'oecuménisme véritable sans la conversion des coeurs; sans pardon réciproque des jugements injustes et des actes commis les uns contre les autres; sans purification de la mémoire; sans renouveau de la vie spirituelle des individus et de l'Eglise dans son ensemble; sans sanctification personnelle.

Le rétablissement de la pleine communion est un devoir spirituel, avant d'être un devoir institutionnel. Le dialogue oecuménique est beaucoup plus qu'un simple échange d'opinions. En tant qu'échange de dons, il est un processus existentiel et spirituel (cf. Encyclique Ut unum sint, n. 28), dans lequel les chrétiens de toutes les Eglises s'ouvrent les uns aux autres, prêts à s'écouter réciproquement; à se comprendre; à s'accepter, disposés à apprendre les uns des autres; à recevoir et à se laisser enrichir mutuellement pour croître ensemble dans un seul Esprit. Ce mouvement horizontal n'est possible que s'il s'inscrit à l'intérieur du mouvement vertical d'une prière incessante élevée pour l'avènement de l'Esprit Saint, l'Esprit d'unité, de paix et d'amour envers Dieu et envers les autres.

C'est pour cette raison que nous parlons de la priorité de la prière. En effet, nous pouvons être certains que le Père nous accordera tout ce que nous lui demandons au nom de Jésus (cf. Jn 15, 16). Et quel don pourrions-nous donc demander au nom de Jésus qui soit plus précieux que l'unité de ses disciples?"