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Prayer for the Unity of Christians - 2010

You are witnesses of these things
Theme from Luke 24, 48

Resources for prayer throughout the year - in ChineseEnglish, French, Portuguese & 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 Scotland – meeting held in Glasgow, Scotland

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,
Gathered together in this fraternal liturgical assembly, on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, today we conclude the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I greet all of you warmly, in particular Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Archpriest of this Basilica, Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, along with the Abbot and the Community of monks whose guests we are. I also extend my cordial thoughts to the Cardinals here present, to the Bishops and to all who represent the Churches and ecclesial Communities of this City who are here today.

Only a few months have passed since the conclusion of the Year dedicated to St Paul, which gave us an opportunity to deepen our awareness of his extraordinary work as a preacher of the Gospel and also of our call to be missionaries of the Gospel, as the theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity reminds us "You are witnesses of these things" (Lk 24: 48). Paul, although he retained an intense memory of his own past as a persecutor of Christians, did not hesitate to call himself an Apostle. For him, the basis of that title lay in his encounter with the Risen One on the road to Damascus, which also became the beginning of his tireless missionary activity. In this he was to spend every ounce of his energy, proclaiming to all the peoples the Christ whom he had met personally. Thus Paul, from being a persecutor of the Church, was in his turn to become a victim of persecution for the sake of the Gospel to which he witnessed: "Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned.... On frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches" (2 Cor 11: 24-25, 26-28). Paul's witness reached its culmination in his martyrdom when, not so far from here, he was to give proof of his faith in Christ who conquers death.

The dynamic of Paul's experience is clearly expressed in the pages of the Gospel that we have just heard. The disciples of Emmaus, after having recognized the Risen Lord, return to Jerusalem and find the Eleven gathered together with the others. The Risen Christ appears to them, comforts them, overcomes their fear and doubts, and eats with them. Thus he opens their hearts to the intelligence of the Scriptures, recalling what had to happen, which would constitute the nucleus of the Christian proclamation. Jesus affirms: "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Lk 24: 46-47). These are the events to which the disciples of the first hour were to bear witness, followed by believers in Christ of all times and places. It is important, however, to emphasize that this witness, then just as now, is born from the encounter with the Risen One, is fed by a constant relationship with him and animated by a profound love for him. One can only be his witness if one has had the experience of feeling Christ alive and present "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself" (Lk 24: 39) of sitting at table with him, of listening as he sets one's heart aflame! For this, Jesus promises his disciples and each of us a powerful aid from on high, a new presence, that of the Holy Spirit, gift of the Risen Christ, who guides us to the whole truth: "And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you" (Lk 24: 49). The Eleven were to spend their whole lives proclaiming the Good News of the death and Resurrection of the Lord. Almost all of them were to seal their witness with the blood of martyrdom, a fertile seed that has produced an abundant harvest.

The choice of the theme of this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity the invitation, that is, to a common witness of the Risen Christ in accordance with the mandate he entrusted to his disciples is linked to the memory of the 100th anniversary of the Edinburgh Missionary Conference, in Scotland, widely considered a crucial event in the birth of the modern ecumenical movement. In the summer of 1910, in the Scottish capital, over 1,000 missionaries from diverse branches of Protestantism and Anglicanism, who were joined by one Orthodox guest, met to reflect together on the necessity of achieving unity in order to be credible in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, it is precisely this desire to proclaim Christ to others and to carry his message of reconciliation throughout the world that makes one realize the contradiction posed by division among Christians. Indeed, how can non-believers accept the Gospel proclamation if Christians even if they all call on the same Christ are divided among themselves? Moreover, as we know, the same Teacher, at the end of the Last Supper, had prayed to the Father for his disciples: "That they may all be one... so that the world may believe" (Jn 17: 21). The communion and unity of Christ's disciples is therefore a particularly important condition to enhance the credibility and efficacy of their witness.

Now a century after the Edinburgh event, the intuition of those courageous precursors is still very timely. In a world marked by religious indifference, and even by a growing aversion to the Christian faith, it is necessary to discover a new, intense method of evangelization, not only among the peoples who have never known the Gospel but also among those where Christianity has spread and is part of their history. Unfortunately, the issues that separate us from each other are many, and we hope that they can be resolved through prayer and dialogue. There is, however, a core of the Christian message that we can all proclaim together: the fatherhood of God, the victory of Christ over sin and death with his Cross and Resurrection, and faith in the transforming action of the Spirit. While we journey toward full communion, we are called to offer a common witness in the face of the ever increasingly complex challenges of our time, such as secularization and indifference, relativism and hedonism, the delicate ethical issues concerning the beginning and end of life, the limits of science and technology, the dialogue with other religious traditions. There are also other areas in which we must from now on give a common witness: the safeguard of Creation, the promotion of the common good and of peace, the defense of the centrality of the human person, the commitment to overcome the shortcomings of our time, such as hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and the unequal distribution of goods.

The commitment to unity among Christians is not the work of a few only, nor is it an incidental undertaking for the life of the Church. Each one of us is called to make his or her contribution towards the completion of those steps that lead to full communion among the disciples of Christ, without ever forgetting that this unity is above all a gift from God to be constantly invoked. In fact, the force that supports both unity and the mission flows from the fruitful encounter with the Risen One, just as was the case for St Paul on the road to Damascus, and for the Eleven and the other disciples gathered at Jerusalem. May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, grant that her Son's desire may be fulfilled as soon as possible: "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 2010

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

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an ecumenical initiative which has now been making progress for more than a century. Every year it focuses attention on the theme of the visible unity of Christians, which involves the consciences and stimulates the commitment of all who believe in Christ. And it does so first of all with the invitation to pray, in imitation of Jesus who asks the Father on his disciples' behalf: "That they may all be one... so that the world may believe" (Jn 17: 21). The persistent call to prayer for full communion between the followers of the Lord expresses the most genuine and profound approach of the whole ecumenical search because, in the first place, unity is a gift of God. Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council states: "this holy objective the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ transcends human powers" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n 24). Hence, in addition to our effort to develop brotherly relations and to promote dialogue to clarify and to solve the divergences that separate the Churches and Ecclesial Communities, confident and united prayer to the Lord is necessary.

This year's theme is taken from Luke's Gospel, from the last words of the Risen One to his disciples: "You are witnesses of these things" (Lk 24: 48). The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in agreement with the Faith and Constitution Commission of the World Council of Churches asked a Scottish ecumenical group to propose the theme. A century ago the World Missionary Conference: To Consider Missionary Problems in Relation to the Non-Christian World, was held in Edinburgh, Scotland, from 13 to 24 June 1910. Among the problems discussed then was that of the practical difficulty of proposing in a credible way to the non-Christian world the Gospel proclamation by Christians who were divided among themselves. If Christians present themselves divided, or indeed often at odds, to a world that does not know Christ, that has distanced itself from him or that has shown itself to be indifferent to the Gospel, will the proclamation of Christ as the one Saviour of the world and our peace be credible? From that time the relationship between unity and mission has represented an essential dimension of all ecumenical action, as well as its starting point. And it is because of this specific contribution that the Edinburgh Conference remains a reference point for modern ecumenism. At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church took up and vigorously reaffirmed this aim, asserting that the division among Jesus' disciples not only "openly contradicts the will of Christ, but scandalizes the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel to every creature" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n 1).

The theme proposed in this Week for meditation and prayer fits into this theological and spiritual context: the need for a common testimony to Christ. The brief text proposed as a theme, "You are witnesses of these things", must be interpreted in the context of the whole of chapter 24 of the Gospel according to Luke. Let us briefly recall the content of this chapter. First the women go to the tomb, they see the signs of Jesus' Resurrection and tell the Apostles and the other disciples what they have seen; then the Risen One himself appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he appears to Simon Peter and subsequently to the "Eleven gathered together and those who were with them". He opens their minds to understand the Scriptures about his redeeming death and his Resurrection, saying that "repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations". To the disciples who were "gathered" together and who were witnesses of his mission, the Risen Lord promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that together they might bear witness to him to all the peoples. For us, from this imperative, "of all these things", of which you are witnesses the theme of this Week for Christian Unity two questions arise. The first is: what are "all these things"? The second: how can we be witnesses of "all these things"?

If we look at the context of the chapter "all these things", means first and foremost the Cross and the Resurrection: the disciples have seen the Lord's crucifixion, they see the Risen One and thus begin to understand all the Scriptures that speak of the mystery of the Passion and the gift of the Resurrection. "All these things", therefore, refers to the mystery of Christ, to the Son of God made man, who died for us and rose, who lives for ever and thus guarantees our eternal life.

But knowing Christ - this is the essential point - we know the Face of God. Christ is above all the revelation of God. In all epochs human beings have perceived the existence of God, one God, but a God who is distant and does not show himself. In Christ this God shows himself, the distant God becomes close. "All these things", therefore, especially with the mystery of Christ, God made himself close to us. This implies another dimension: Christ is never alone; he came among us, he died alone but was raised to draw us all to him. Christ, as Scripture says, created a body for himself, he gathered all humanity in his reality of immortal life. Thus, in Christ who reunites humanity, we know humanity's future: eternal life. All this, therefore, is very simple, in the last instance: we know God by knowing Christ, his Body, the Mystery of the Church and the promise of eternal life.

We now come to the second question. How can we be witnesses of "all these things"? We can only be witnesses by knowing Christ, and in knowing Christ, also knowing God. However, knowing Christ implies, of course, an intellectual dimension learning what we know of Christ but it is always much more than an intellectual process: it is an existential process, a process of the opening of my ego, of my transformation by the presence and power of Christ. Thus it is also a process of openness to all the others who must be the Body of Christ. In this way, it is obvious that knowing Christ, as an intellectual and, especially, an existential process, is a process that makes us witnesses. In other words, we can only be witnesses if we know Christ personally and not solely through others from our own lives and from our own personal encounter with Christ. In truly meeting him in our life of faith we become witnesses and thus can contribute to the newness of the world, to eternal life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also gives us a clue to the content of "all these things". The Church has gathered together and summed up the essential of all that the Lord gave us in the Revelation in the "Niceno-Constantinopolitan or Nicene Creed", which "draws its great authority from the fact that it stems from the first two ecumenical Councils (in 325 and 381)" (n 195). The Catechism explains that this Creed "remains common to all the great Churches of both East and West to this day". Consequently in this Creed the truths of faith are found that Christians can profess and witness to together, so that the world may believe, expressing, with their desire and commitment to overcome the existing divergences, the will to walk together towards full communion, the unity of the Body of Christ.

The celebration of the Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians brings us to consider other important aspects for ecumenism and first of all the great progress achieved in the relations between Churches and Ecclesial Communities since the Edinburgh Conference more than a century ago. The modern ecumenical movement has developed so significantly that over the past century it has become an important element in the life of the Church, recalling the problem of unity among all Christians and sustaining the growth of communion between them. Not only does it encourage fraternal relations between the Churches and Ecclesial Communities in response to the commandment of love, but it also encourages theological research. In addition, it involves the practical life of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities with topics that touch on pastoral and sacramental life, such as, for example, the mutual recognition of Baptism, questions concerning mixed marriages, the partial cases of comunicatio in sacris in specific, well-defined situations. Following the trajectory of this ecumenical spirit, contacts have continued to broaden so as to include Pentecostal, Evangelical and Charismatic movements for greater reciprocal knowledge, despite the many serious problems in this sector.

The Catholic Church, from the Second Vatican Council onwards, has entered into fraternal relations with all the Churches of the East and with the Ecclesial Communities of the West, in particular by organizing bilateral theological dialogues with most of them. These have led to finding convergences or even consensus on various points, thereby deepening the bonds of communion. In the year that has just ended the groups in dialogue have recorded some positive steps. At the 11th Plenary Session that was held in Paphos, Cyprus, in October 2009, the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue with the Orthodox Churches embarked on the examination of a crucial topic in the Dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox: The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium, that is, during the time in which the Christians of East and West lived in full communion. This study will later be extended to the second millennium. I have several times asked Catholics to pray for this delicate and essential dialogue for the whole ecumenical movement. The same Joint Commission also met from 26 to 30 January last year with the Ancient Orthodox Churches of the East (Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian, Armenian). These important initiatives testify that a profound dialogue full of hope is continuing with all the Churches of the East which are not in full communion with Rome, in their own specificity.

In the course of the past year, the results achieved by the various dialogues that have taken place in the past 40 years with the Western Ecclesial Communities were examined. Special thought was given to those with the Anglican Communion, with the Lutheran World Federation, with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and with the World Methodist Council. In this regard the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity made a survey to list the points of convergence which have been reached in the relative bilateral dialogues and at the same time to point out the problems that remain open on which it will be necessary to start a new phase of discussions.

Among the recent events I would like to mention the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, celebrated by Catholics and Lutherans together on 31 October 2009 to encourage the pursuit of the dialogue, as well as the visit to Rome of Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, who also had meetings about the specific situation of the Anglican Communion at the present time. The common commitment to continue relations and dialogue are a positive sign that show the strong desire for unity despite all the problems that stand in its way. Thus we see that a dimension of our responsibility exists in doing everything possible to attain real unity, but there is the other dimension, that of divine action, because God alone can give unity to the Church. A "self-made" unity would be human but we want the Church of God, made by God, who will create unity when he wishes and when we are ready. We must also bear in mind how much real progress has been achieved in collaboration and brotherhood in all these years, in the past 50 years. At the same we must realize that ecumenical work is not a linear process. Indeed, old problems that arose in the context of another epoch lose their relevance while in today's context new problems and new difficulties arise. We must therefore always be open to a process of purification, in which the Lord will make us capable of being united.

Dear brothers and sisters, I ask everyone to pray for the complex ecumenical reality, for the promotion of dialogue, as well as in order that the Christians of our time may give a new common witness of faithfulness to Christ in the eyes of this world of ours, May the Lord hear our invocation and that of all Christians which we are raising to him with special intensity during this Week.

BXVI - General Audience, Wednesday 20 January 2010 - © Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana