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Prayer for the Unity of Christians - 2009

That they may become one in your hand
Theme from Ezekiel 37, 15-28

Resources for prayer throughout the year - in English, French, GermanPortuguese & 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 Korea – meeting held in Marseilles, 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,
It is a great joy every time we meet again at the sepulchre of the Apostle Paul, on the liturgical memorial of his conversion at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians. I greet all of you with affection. In a particular way I greet Cardinal Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, the Abbot and the Community of monks who are hosting us. I also greet Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. With him I greet the Cardinals present, the Bishops and the Pastors of the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities, who have come here this evening. A special word of recognition goes to those who have collaborated in the preparation of the prayer materials, personally living the practice of reflection and encounter in order to listen to one another and, together, to listen to the Word of God.

St Paul's conversion offers us the model and indicates to us the way towards full unity. Unity, in fact, requires conversion: from division to communion, from wounded unity to one that is healed and full. This conversion is a gift of the Risen Christ as it happened for St Paul. We have heard it in the Apostle's own words in the reading just proclaimed: "By the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor 15: 10). The same Lord who called Saul on the road to Damascus addresses the members of his Church which is one and holy and calling each one by name asks: why have you divided me? Why have you wounded the unity of my body? Conversion implies two dimensions. In the first step one knows and recognizes one's faults in the light of Christ, and this recognition becomes sorrow and contrition, the desire for a new beginning.

In the second step one recognizes that this new journey cannot come from oneself. It consists in letting oneself be conquered by Christ. As St Paul says: "I am racing to grasp the prize if possible, since I have been grasped by Christ [Jesus]" (Phil 3: 12). Conversion demands our "yes", my "racing"; ultimately it is not my action, but a gift in letting myself be formed by Christ. It is death and resurrection. Therefore St Paul does not say: "I am converted", but he says "I died" (Gal 2: 19), I am a new creature. Actually, St Paul's conversion was not a passage from immorality to morality his was a high morality from a mistaken faith to a correct faith his faith was true, even if incomplete but rather it was a state of being conquered by Christ's love. It was the renunciation of his own perfection, the humility of the one who places himself without reserve at the service of Christ for the brethren. And only in this renunciation of ourselves, in this conformity with Christ can we be united also among ourselves, do we become "one" in Christ. It is communion with the Risen Christ that gives us unity.

We can observe an interesting analogy with the dynamic of St Paul's conversion also by meditating on the biblical text of the prophet Ezekiel (37: 15-28) chosen as the basis of our prayer this year. In it, in fact, is presented the symbolic gesture of the two pieces of wood reunited into one in the prophet's hand; the future action of God is represented with this gesture. The 2nd part of chapter 37 the 1st part of which contains the famous vision of the dry bones and the resurrection of Israel is a work of God's Spirit. How can one fail to note that the prophetic sign of the reunification of the people of Israel is placed after the great symbol of the dry bones vivified by the Spirit? From it derives a theological scheme analogous to that of the conversion of St Paul. It is above all the power of God who, with his Spirit, works the resurrection as a new creation. This God, who is the Creator and is able to raise the dead, is also able to lead the divided people to unity again. Paul both as and more than Ezekiel becomes the elect instrument for preaching the unity Jesus won through his Cross and Resurrection: unity among Jews and pagans, to form a single new people. Christ's Resurrection thus extends the parameters of unity: not only a unity of the tribes of Israel, but a unity of Jews and pagans; the unification of humanity dispersed by sin, and still more, a unity of all believers in Christ.

We owe the choice of this passage of the prophet Ezekiel to our brothers from Korea, who felt strongly challenged by this biblical text both as Koreans and as Christians. With the division of the Hebrew people into two kingdoms, they have mirrored themselves as sons of a single land, whose political events have separated them into the north and the south. And this human experience of theirs has helped them to understand better the plight of the division of Christians. Now, in the light of this Word of God that our Korean brothers have chosen and proposed to all, emerges a truth full of hope: God promises his people a new unity that must be a sign and instrument of reconciliation and peace also on a historical level, for all the nations. The unity that God gives to his Church, and for which we pray, is naturally communion in the spiritual sense, in faith and in charity. But we know that this unity in Christ is the leaven of fraternity also on the social level, in relationships among nations and for the entire human family. It is the yeast of the Kingdom of God that makes the mass of dough rise. In this sense, the prayer we are raising in these days, with reference to the prophecy of Ezekiel, has also become an intercession for the diverse situations of conflict currently afflicting humanity. There, where human words become powerless, because the tragic noise of violence and arms prevails, the prophetic power of the Word of God does not waver and it repeats to us that peace is possible, and that we must be instruments of reconciliation and peace. Therefore our prayer for unity and for peace asks always to be proven by courageous gestures of reconciliation among us Christians. I am thinking still of the Holy Land: how important it is that the faithful who live there, as well as the pilgrims who go there, offer to all the witness that diversity of rites and of traditions should not constitute an obstacle to mutual respect and fraternal charity. In the legitimate diversity of the various traditions we must seek unity in the faith, through our fundamental "yes" to Christ and to his one Church. In this way diversity will no longer be an obstacle that separates us, but an enrichment through the multiple expressions of the common faith.

I would like to conclude this reflection of mine by referring to an event that the more elderly among us certainly cannot forget. On 25 January 1959, exactly 50 years ago, Bl. Pope John XXIII manifested for the first time in this place his will to convoke "an ecumenical Council for the universal Church" (AAS LI [1959]). He made this announcement to the Cardinal Fathers in the Chapter Hall of the Monastery of St Paul after having celebrated solemn Mass in the Basilica. From that provident decision, suggested to my venerable Predecessor, according to his firm conviction, by the Holy Spirit, has also derived a fundamental contribution to ecumenism, summarized in the Decree Unitatis redintegratio. Among other things, in it one reads: "There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion. For it is from newness of attitudes of mind, from self-denial and unstinted love, that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way" (n 7). The attitude of interior conversion in Christ, of spiritual renewal, of growth in charity toward other Christians has given way to a new situation in ecumenical relations. The fruits of theological dialogue, with their convergence and with the most precise identification of the divergences that still remain, urge the courageous pursuance of two directions: in the acceptance of what has been positively achieved and in a renewed commitment toward the future. Opportunely, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, whom I thank for the service they render to the cause of unity of all the Lord's disciples, has recently reflected on the reception of ecumenical dialogue and on he future. This reflection, if on one hand rightly wishes to value what has been gained, on the other, then, it intends to find new ways to continue the relations among the Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the current context. The horizon of full unity remains open before us. It is an arduous duty, but stirring for Christians who want to live in harmony with the Lord's prayer: "that they may be one, that the world may believe" (Jn 17: 21). The Second Vatican Council has given us the prospect of "this holy objective the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ transcends human powers and gifts" (UR, 24). Trusting in the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, and encouraged by the significant steps accomplished by the ecumenical movement, let us invoke the Holy Spirit with faith so that he continues to illuminate and guide our way. May the Apostle Paul, who fatigued and suffered so much for the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, urge us and assist us from heaven. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the unity of the Church, accompany and sustain us.

BXVI - Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Rome - Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, 25 January 2009

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

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" began last Sunday. It will end next Sunday, the Feast of the Conversion of the Apostle St Paul. The Week of Prayer is a particularly precious spiritual initiative that is becoming ever more widespread among Christians, in harmony with and, we might say, in response to the heartfelt entreaty that Jesus addressed to the Father in the Upper Room before his Passion: "That they may all be one... so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17: 21). In this priestly prayer, the Lord asks at least four times that his disciples may be "one", in accordance with the image of the unity between the Father and the Son. This is a unity that can only grow by following the example of the Son's gift of himself to the Father, that is, by coming out of oneself and uniting oneself with Christ. Moreover in this prayer Jesus twice adds as the purpose of this unity: so that the world may believe. Thus, full unity concerns the Church's life and mission in the world. She must live a unity that can only derive from her unity with Christ, with his transcendence, as a sign that Christ is the truth. This is our responsibility: that the gift of unity by virtue of which our faith is made credible may be visible in the world. For this reason it is important that every Christian community become aware of the urgent need to work in every possible way to achieve this great objective. However, knowing that unity is first and foremost a "gift" of the Lord, it is necessary at the same time to implore it with tireless and trusting prayer. Only by coming out of ourselves and going towards Christ, only in our relationship with him, can we become truly united with one another. This is the invitation that this "Week" addresses to believers in Christ of every Church and Ecclesial Community; let us respond to it, dear brothers and sisters, with prompt generosity.

This year the "Week of Prayer for Unity" presents to us for our meditation and prayers these words from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel: "That they may become one in your hand" (37: 17). The theme was chosen by an ecumenical group from Korea and was then re-examined for international circulation by the Joint Committee for Prayer, comprised of representatives of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and of the World Council of Churches in Geneva. The process of preparation itself was a fruitful and stimulating exercise of true ecumenism.

In the passage from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel, from which the theme has been taken, the Lord orders the prophet to take two sticks, one representing Judah and his tribes and the other Joseph and all the house of Israel associated with him, and asks him "to join them together" into one stick, that they may become "one" in his hand. The parable of unity is transparent. To "[his] people" who ask for an explanation, Ezekiel, enlightened from on High, was to say that the Lord himself takes the two sticks and joins them together in such a way that the two kingdoms with their respective tribes, divided from one another, may become "one in his hand". The hand of the prophet who brings the two sticks together is considered as the very hand of God who gathers together and unites his people and, in the end, the whole of humanity. We may apply the Prophet's words to Christians in the sense of an exhortation to pray and work, doing their utmost to bring about the unity of all Christ's disciples, to work so that our hand may become an instrument of the unifying hand of God. This exhortation becomes particularly moving and heartrending in Jesus' words after the Last Supper. The Lord desires the whole of his people to journey on and in this sees the Church of the future, of the centuries to come with patience and perseverance towards the goal of full unity. This is a commitment that entails humble adherence and docile obedience to the commandment of the Lord, who blesses it and makes it fruitful. The Prophet Ezekiel assures us that it will be he himself, our one Lord, the one God, who gathers us into "his hand".

In the second part of the biblical reading the significance and conditions of unity of the various tribes into a single kingdom are more deeply examined. In their dispersion among the Gentiles, the Israelites had become acquainted with erroneous forms of worship, they had developed mistaken concepts of life and had assumed customs alien to the divine law. The Lord now declares that they shall no longer defile themselves with the idols of pagan peoples, with their abominations and with all their transgressions (Ez 37: 23). He recalls their need to free themselves from sin, to purify their hearts. "I will deliver them from all their sins and will cleanse them", he says. And so "they shall be my people, and I will be their God." In this condition of inner renewal they "shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes". And the prophetic text concludes with the definitive and fully salvific promise: "I will make a covenant of peace with them... and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them" (Ez 37: 26).

Ezekiel's vision becomes particularly eloquent for the entire ecumenical movement because it sheds light on the indispensable need for authentic inner renewal in all the members of the people of God which only the Lord can bring about. We too must be open to this renewal because we too, dispersed among the world's peoples, have learned customs that are very far from the Word of God. Since "every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling", as we read in the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council, "undoubtedly this explains the dynamism of the movement toward unity" (Unitatis redintegratio, n 6), namely, the greatest fidelity to the vocation of God. The Decree then stresses the interior dimension of conversion of the heart. "There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name", it adds, "without interior conversion. For it is from newness of attitudes of mind, from self-denial and unstinting love, that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way." Thus for all of us the "Week of Prayer for Unity" becomes an incentive for sincere conversion, for listening ever more docilely to God's word and for increasingly deeper faith.

The "Week" is also a favourable opportunity to thank the Lord for what, with his help, has been done up to now to bring divided Christian and Ecclesial Communities closer to one another. This spirit has enlivened the Catholic Church which, in the year that has just ended, continued with firm conviction and well-founded hope to engage in respectful brotherly relations with all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the East and West. Within a variety of situations, at times more positive and at times with greater difficulty, we endeavoured never to fall short of our commitment to make every possible effort for the recomposition of full unity. Relations between the Churches and theological dialogues have continued to show encouraging signs of spiritual convergence. I myself have had the joy, both here at the Vatican and during my apostolic visits, of meeting Christians from all parts. I have received the Ecumenical Patriarch His Holiness Bartholomew I three times with deep joy and, during what was an extraordinary event at the recent Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, we heard him speak with fraternal ecclesial warmth and convinced trust in the future. I had the pleasure of receiving the two Catholicoi of the Armenian Apostolic Church: His Holiness Karekin II of Etchmiadzin and His Holiness Aram I of Antelias. And, lastly, I shared in the sorrow of the Patriarchate of Moscow at the departure of our Beloved Brother in Christ, His Holiness Patriarch Alexei II, and I continue to remain in communion through prayer with these brothers of ours who are preparing to elect the new Patriarch of their venerable and great Orthodox Church. Likewise I have been granted to meet representatives of the various Christian communions of the West, with whom exchanges are continuing, on the important witness that Christians must bear today in a harmonious manner, in a world that is ever more divided and placed before so many cultural, social, economical and ethical challenges. Let us joyfully give thanks to the Lord together for these and many other meetings, dialogues and gestures of brotherhood that the Lord has granted us to accomplish.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us take the opportunity that the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" offers us to ask the Lord for the commitment and the ecumenical dialogue to continue and, if possible, to be intensified. In the context of the Pauline Year commemorating the 2000th anniversary of the birth of St Paul, we cannot fail to also refer to what the Apostle Paul has bequeathed to us in writing concerning the Church's unity. Every Wednesday I continue to devote my reflection to his Letters and to his invaluable teaching. Here I simply resume what he wrote when addressing the community of Ephesus: "There is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph 4: 4-5). Let us make our own the yearning of St Paul who spent his whole life for the one Lord and for the unity of his Mystical Body, the Church, and with his martyrdom bearing a supreme witness of faithfulness and love for Christ.

By following his example and counting on his intercession, may every community grow in the commitment to unity, thanks to the various spiritual and pastoral initiatives and common prayer assemblies that usually become more numerous and intense in this "Week". These give us a foretaste, in a certain way, of the day of full unity. Let us pray that the dialogue of truth among the Churches and Ecclesial Communities and the dialogue of charity, which conditions the theological dialogue itself and helps us live together in order to bear a common witness, will continue. They are indispensable in order to settle differences. The desire that dwells in our hearts is to hasten the day of full communion, when all the disciples of our one Lord will at last be able to celebrate the Eucharist together, the divine sacrifice for the life and salvation of the world. Let us invoke the motherly intercession of Mary so that she may help all Christians to cultivate a more attentive listening to the word of God and more intense prayers for unity.

BXVI - General Audience, 21 January 2009 - © Copyright 2009 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana