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Prayer for the Unity of Christians - 2007

He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak
Theme from Mark 7, 31-37

Resources for prayer throughout the year - in English, FrenchPortuguese & Spanish
Jointly prepared and published by The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, The Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches

Preparatory material from South Africa – meeting held in Faverges, France

Pope Benedict XVI's Homily at Vespers
at Conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Unity
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
During the "Week of Prayer" that will conclude this evening, the common entreaty addressed to the Lord for Christian unity was intensified in the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities across the world. Together, we meditated on the words of Mark's Gospel that have just been proclaimed: "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mk 7: 37), the biblical theme suggested by the Christian Communities of South Africa. The situations of racism, poverty, conflict, exploitation, sickness and suffering in which they find themselves because of the impossibility of being able to make themselves understood in their needs, gives rise in them to an acute need to hear the word of God and to speak courageously. Is not being deaf and mute, that is, being unable either to listen or to speak, a sign of a lack of communion and a symptom of division? Division and the inability to communicate, a consequence of sin, are contrary to God's plan. This year Africa has given us a theme for reflection of great religious and political importance, because the ability "to speak" and "to listen" is an essential condition for building the civilization of love.

The words "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" are good news that proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God and the healing of the inability to communicate and of division. This message is rediscovered in all Jesus' preaching and work. Wherever he went, whether travelling through villages, cities or the countryside, the people "laid the sick in the market places, and besought him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well" (Mk 6: 56). The healing of the deaf-mute, on which we have meditated in these days occurred while Jesus, having left the region of Tyre, was making his way to the Sea of Galilee through the so-called "Decapolis", a multi-ethnic and multi-religious district (cf. Mk 7: 31), an emblematic situation even in our day. As elsewhere, in the Decapolis too, they presented a sick man to Jesus, a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment (moghìlalon), begging him to lay his hands upon him because they considered him a man of God. Jesus took the man aside from the multitude and performed gestures that infer a salvific contact: he put his fingers into his ears, and touched the tongue of the sick man with his own saliva, then, looking up to Heaven, he commanded: "Be opened!". He spoke this command in Aramaic (Ephphatha), in all likelihood the language of the people present and of the deaf-mute himself. The Evangelist translated this term into Greek as (dianoìchthēti). The ears of the deaf man were opened, his tongue was released, and "he spoke plainly" (orthōs). Jesus exhorted them to say nothing about the miracle. But the more he exhorted them, "the more zealously they proclaimed it" (Mk 7: 36). And the comment full of wonder of those who had been there recalls the preaching of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Messiah: "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mk 7: 37).

The first lesson we draw from this biblical episode, also recalled in the rite of Baptism, is that listening, in the Christian perspective, is a priority. In this regard, Jesus says explicitly: "Blessed ... are those who hear the word of God and keep it" (Lk 11: 28). Indeed, to Martha worried about many things, he said that "one thing is needful" (Lk 10: 42). And from the context it becomes evident that this "one thing" is the obedient listening to the Word. Therefore, listening to the Word of God is a priority for our ecumenical commitment. Indeed, it is not we who act or who organize the unity of the Church. The Church does not make herself or live of herself, but from the creative Word that comes from the mouth of God. To listen to the word of God together; to practice the lectio divina of the Bible, that is, reading linked with prayer; letting ourselves be amazed by the newness of the Word of God that never ages and is never depleted; overcoming our deafness to those words that do not correspond with our prejudices and our opinions; to listen and also to study, in the communion of believers of all ages; all these things constitute a path to be taken in order to achieve unity in the faith as a response to listening to the Word.

Anyone who listens to the Word of God can and must speak and transmit it to others, to those who have never heard it, or who have forgotten it and buried under the thorny troubles and deceptions of the world (cf. Mt 13: 22). We must ask ourselves: have not we Christians become perhaps too silent? Do we not perhaps lack the courage to speak out and witness as did those who witnessed the healing of the deaf-mute in the Decapolis? Our world needs this witness; above all, it is waiting for the common testimony of Christians. Therefore listening to the God who speaks also implies a reciprocal listening, the dialogue between the Churches and the Ecclesial Communities. Honest and loyal dialogue is the typical and indispensable instrument in the quest for unity. The Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council emphasized that if Christians do not know each other reciprocally, progress on the path of communion is unthinkable. Indeed, in dialogue we listen and communicate; we confront one another and, with God's grace, it is possible to converge on his Word, accepting its demands that apply to all.

The Council Fathers did not expect listening and dialogue to be helpful for ecumenical progress alone, but they added a perspective which refers to the Catholic Church herself: "From such dialogue" the conciliar text states, "will emerge still more clearly what the situation of the Catholic Church really is" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 9). It is indispensable "that the doctrine be clearly presented in its entirety" for a dialogue that confronts, discusses and overcomes the divergences that still exist among Christians, but of course, "the manner and order in which Catholic belief is expressed should in no way become an obstacle to dialogue with our brethren" (ibid., n. 11). It is necessary to speak correctly (orthos) and in a comprehensible way. The ecumenical dialogue entails evangelical fraternal correction and leads to a reciprocal spiritual enrichment in the sharing of authentic experiences of faith and Christian life. For this to happen, we must tirelessly implore the help of God's grace and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. This is what the Christians of the whole world did during this special "Week" or what they will do in the Novena that precedes Pentecost, as on every appropriate occasion, raising their trusting prayer that all Christ's disciples may be one, and that, in listening to the Word, they may be able to give a concordant witness with the men and women of our time.

In this atmosphere of intense communion, I would like to address my cordial greeting to all those present: to the Cardinal Archpriest of this Basilica and to the Cardinal President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and to the other Cardinals, to my venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the priesthood, to the Benedictine monks, to the men and women Religious, to the lay people who represent the entire diocesan community of Rome. I would especially like to greet the brethren from the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities who have taken part in the celebration, thereby renewing the important tradition of concluding the "Week of Prayer" together on the day when we commemorate the striking conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus. I am pleased to point out that the tomb of the Apostle to the Gentiles, where we are today, has recently undergone investigation and study, subsequent to which it was decided to make it visible to pilgrims by a timely adjustment under the main altar. I express my congratulations on this important initiative. To the intercession of St Paul, untiring builder of the unity of the Church, I entrust the fruits of listening and of the common witness we have been able to experience in the numerous fraternal meetings and dialogues that took place during 2006, both with the Eastern Churches and with the Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the West. In these events, it was possible to perceive the joy of brotherhood, together with regret that the tensions endure, keeping ever alive the hope that the Lord kindles within us. Let us thank all those who helped to intensify the ecumenical dialogue with prayer, with the offering of their suffering and with their tireless action. It is above all to Our Lord Jesus Christ that we render our fervent thanks for everything. May the Virgin Mary obtain that we may achieve as soon as possible the ardent desire of her divine Son: "that they may all be one... so that the world may believe" (Jn 17: 21)."

BXVI - Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Rome - Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, 25 January 2007

Papa Benedetto's 1st of 2 Addresses on the Week of Prayer for Unity
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians begins tomorrow. I myself will conclude it in the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls this 25 January with the celebration of Vespers, to which representatives of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities of Rome are also invited. The days from 18 to 25 January, and in other parts of the world the week around Pentecost, are a strong time of commitment and prayer on the part of all Christians, who can avail themselves of the booklets produced jointly by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. I have been able to sense how sincere the desire for unity is at the meetings I have had with various representatives of Churches and Ecclesial Communities in these years, and in a most moving way, during my recent Visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Istanbul, Turkey. On these and on other experiences that opened my heart to hope, I will reflect at greater length next Wednesday. The way to unity remains long and laborious; yet, it is necessary not to be discouraged and to journey on, in the first place relying on the unfailing support of the One who, before ascending into Heaven, promised his followers: "I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28: 20). Unity is a gift of God and the fruit of his Spirit's action. Consequently, it is important to pray. The closer we draw to Christ, converting to his love, the closer we also draw to one another.

In some countries, including Italy, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is preceded by the Day of Christian-Jewish reflection, which is celebrated precisely today, 17 January. For almost 20 years now the Italian Bishops' Conference has dedicated this Judaism Day to furthering knowledge and esteem for it and for developing the relationship of reciprocal friendship between the Christian and Jewish communities, a relationship that has developed positively since the Second Vatican Council and the historic visit of the Servant of God John Paul II to the Major Synagogue of Rome. To grow and be fruitful, the Jewish-Christian friendship must also be based on prayer. Therefore, today I invite you all to address an ardent prayer to the Lord that Jews and Christians may respect and esteem one another and collaborate for justice and peace in the world.

This year the biblical theme proposed for common reflection and prayer during this "Week" is: "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mk 7: 31-37). These words are taken from Mark's Gospel and refer to the healing of a deaf-mute by Jesus. In this short passage, the Evangelist recounts that the Lord, after putting his fingers into his ears and touching his tongue with saliva, worked the miracle by saying: "Ephphatha", which means "be opened". Having regained his hearing and the gift of speech, the man roused the admiration of others by telling what had happened to him. Every Christian, spiritually deaf and mute because of original sin, receives with Baptism the gift of the Lord who places his fingers on his face and thus, through the grace of Baptism, becomes able to hear the Word of God and to proclaim it to his brethren. Indeed, from that very moment it is his task to mature in knowledge and love for Christ so as to be able to proclaim and witness effectively to the Gospel.

This topic, shedding light on two aspects of the mission of every Christian community - the proclamation of the Gospel and the witness of charity -, also underlines how important it is to translate Christ's message into concrete initiatives of solidarity. This encourages the journey to unity because it can be said that any relief to the suffering of their neighbour which Christians offer together, however little, also helps to make more visible their communion and fidelity to the Lord's command. Prayer for Christian unity cannot, however, be limited to one week a year. The unanimous plea to the Lord that in times and ways known only to him he may bring about the full unity of all his disciples must extend to every day of the year. Furthermore, the harmony of intentions in the service to alleviate human suffering, the search for the truth of Christ's message, conversion and penance are obligatory steps through which every Christian worthy of the name must join his brother or sister to implore the gift of unity and communion. I exhort you, therefore, to spend these days in an atmosphere of prayerful listening to the Spirit of God, so that important steps may be made on the path to full and perfect communion among all Christ's disciples. May the Virgin Mary obtain this for us; may she, whom we invoke as Mother of the Church and help of all Christians, sustain our way towards Christ."

Papa Benedetto's 2nd of 2 Addresses on the Week of Prayer for Unity
in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Tomorrow, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity comes to a close. This year its theme has been the words in Mark's Gospel: "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (cf. Mk 7: 31-37). We too will be able to repeat these words that express the people's admiration at the healing of a deaf-mute worked by Jesus when we see the wondrous flowering of the commitment to restoring Christian unity. Reviewing the ground we have covered in the past 40 years, it is surprising to see how the Lord has awakened us from the torpor of self-sufficiency and indifference: how he makes us ever more able to "listen to each other" and not just "to hear each other"; how he has loosened our tongues so that the prayers we raise to him may have a greater force of conviction for the world. Yes, it is true, the Lord has granted us many graces and the light of his Spirit has illumined many witnesses. They have shown that everything may be obtained by prayer when we can obey with trust and humility the divine commandment of love and adhere to Christ's longing for the unity of all his disciples.

"The concern for restoring unity", the Second Vatican Council affirms, "involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike. It extends to everyone, according to the talent of each, whether it be exercised in daily Christian living or in theological and historical studies" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 5). Our first common task is to pray. In praying, and praying together, Christians become more aware of their kinship, even if they are still divided; moreover, in praying we learn to listen to the Lord better because only by listening to the Lord and following his voice can we find the way to unity.

Ecumenism is, of course, a slow process, sometimes even discouraging when people yield to the temptation to "hear" rather than to "listen", to speak half-heartedly instead of speaking out courageously. It is not easy to give up a "convenient deafness", as though the unchanging Gospel were unable to flourish anew and reassert itself as a providential leaven of conversion and spiritual renewal for each one of us. Ecumenism, as I said, is a slow process, it is a slow and uphill journey like every penitential process. However, it is a journey which, after the initial difficulties and even in their midst, also offers broad spaces of joy, refreshing stops, and from time to time allows one to breathe deeply the purest air of full communion.

The experience of the recent decades after the Second Vatican Council demonstrates that the search for Christian unity takes place at various levels and in innumerable circumstances: in parishes, in hospitals, in contacts between people, through the collaboration of local communities in every part of the world and especially in those regions where to make a gesture of good will for one's brother or sister demands a great effort and also a purification of memory. The meetings and events that constantly mark my ministry, the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, Pastor of the universal Church, also fit into this context of hope, punctuated by practical steps towards the full communion of Christians. I would like here to review the most significant events that took place in 2006 and were a cause for joy and gratitude to the Lord.

The year began with the official visit of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The International Commission of the Catholic Churches and the Reformed Churches entrusted to their respective authorities for consideration, a document that marks the end of a dialogue process that began in 1970, hence, it has continued for more than 36 years. The document is entitled: "The Church as a Community of Common Witness to the Kingdom of God". On 25 January 2006 - consequently, one year ago - the delegates for European ecumenism took part in the solemn conclusion of the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" in the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls. They had been convoked jointly by the Council of European Episcopal Conferences and by the Conference of European Churches for the first stage in the upcoming third European Ecumenical Assembly that will be held in Sibiu, on Orthodox territory, in September 2007. I was able at the Wednesday Audiences to receive the delegation of the World Baptist Alliance and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that remains faithful to its regular visits to Rome. I was also able to meet with the Hierarchs of the Orthodox Church of Georgia, which I follow with affection, nurturing the bond of friendship that bound His Holiness Ilia II to my venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Pope John Paul II.

In continuing this resume of last year's ecumenical encounters, I come to the "Summit of Religious Leaders" held in Moscow in July 2006; with a special message, Alexei II, Patriarch of Moscow and All the Russias, requested communion with the Holy See. The visit of Metropolitan Kirill from the Patriarchate of Moscow was also useful. It brought to the fore the intention to achieve a more explicit normalization of our bilateral relations. Equally satisfying was the visit of priests and students from the Diakonia Apostolica College of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece. I am also pleased to recall that at its General Assembly in Porto Alegre the World Council of Churches gave Catholic participation ample room. On that occasion, I sent a special Message. I also wished to send a Message to the General Assembly of the World Methodist Council in Seoul. Likewise, I recall with pleasure the cordial visit of the Secretaries of the Christian World Communions, organizations for reciprocal information and contact between the various denominations.

And as we review the events of the year 2006, we come to the official visit last November of the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Anglican Communion. In the Redemptoris Mater Chapel in the Apostolic Palace I shared with him and his entourage a meaningful moment of prayer. Then, regarding the unforgettable Apostolic Visit to Turkey and the meeting with His Holiness Bartholomew I, I would like to recall the many gestures that were even more eloquent than words. I take this opportunity to greet His Holiness Bartholomew I once again and I thank him for the letter he wrote to me upon my return to Rome; I assure him of my prayers and my commitment to take steps to ensure that that embrace of peace we exchanged during the Divine Liturgy in St George's Church at the Phanar may bring results. The year ended with the official visit to Rome of H.B. Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, and we exchanged exigent gifts: the icons of the Panaghia, the "All Holy", and of Sts Peter and Paul embracing.

Are these not moments of lofty spiritual value, moments of joy in which to draw a breath on the slow ascent to unity, of which I spoke? These moments cast light on the commitment - often silent, but strong - that brings us together in the quest for unity. They encourage us to make every effort to continue on this slow but important climb. Let us entrust ourselves to the constant intercession of the Mother of God and of our Patron Saints, so that they may sustain us and help us not to withdraw from our good resolutions; so that they may encourage us to redouble all our efforts, praying and working with trust in the certainty that the Holy Spirit will do the rest. He will grant us full unity when and as he pleases. And strengthened by trust in this, let us go forward on the path of faith, hope and charity. The Lord will guide us."

BXVI - General Audiences, 17 & 24 January 2007 - © Copyright 2007 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana