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Prayer for the Unity of Christians - 2011

One in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer
Theme from Acts 2, 42

Resources for prayer throughout the year - in English, 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 Jerusalem – meeting held in Saydnaya, Syria

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,
After the example of Jesus who on the eve of his Passion prayed the Father for his disciples “that they may all be one” (Jn 17:21), Christians continue ceaselessly to invoke the gift of unity from God. Their request becomes more intense during the Week of Prayer, which ends today, when the Churches and Ecclesial Communities meditate and pray together for the unity of all Christians. This year the theme offered for our meditation was suggested by the Christian Communities of Jerusalem, to which I would like to express my deep gratitude, together with the assurance of affection and prayers, on my part and on the part of the whole Church. The Christians of the Holy City are asking us to renew and strengthen our commitment to the re-establishment of full unity, by meditating on the model of life of Christ’s first disciples, gathered in Jerusalem. “They,” we read in the Acts of the Apostles, “devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). This is the portrait of the first community which came into being in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost itself, inspired by the preaching that the Apostle Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, addressed to all who had come to the Holy City for the feast. It was not a community closed in on itself but rather, catholic and universal since its birth, able to embrace peoples of different languages and cultures as the Book of the Acts of the Apostles itself attests. It was not a community founded on an agreement between its members nor on merely sharing a project or an ideal but rather was founded on deep communion with God who revealed himself in his Son, in the encounter with Christ, dead and risen.

In the brief synthesis which concludes the chapter that began with the account of the Holy Spirit’s descent on the day of Pentecost, the evangelist Luke sums up the life of this first community: when they had listened to the words preached by Peter and had been baptized, they listened to the word of God passed on by the Apostles; they willingly stayed together, taking on the necessary services and freely and generously sharing their material possessions; they celebrated the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, the mystery of his death and Resurrection, in the Eucharist, repeating his gesture of the breaking of the bread; they praised the Lord and gave him thanks constantly, calling on him for help in difficulty. However, this description is not simply a memory of the past nor is it an example held up to imitate or an ideal objective to achieve. Rather, it is an affirmation of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. It is an attestation, full of truth, that by uniting all things in Christ the Holy Spirit is the principle of unity of the Church and makes believers one.

The Apostles’ teaching, brotherly communion, the breaking of the bread and prayers are the practical forms of the life of Jerusalem’s first Christian community, gathered together by the action of the Holy Spirit, but at the same time constitute the essential features of all Christian communities, of every epoch and of every place. In other words we could say that they also represent the fundamental dimensions of unity of the visible Body of the Church.

We must be grateful because in recent decades the ecumenical movement, “fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit” (Unitatis Redintegratio, n 1), has taken significant steps forward, which have made it possible to reach an encouraging convergence and consensus on various points, developing relations of esteem and reciprocal respect between the Churches and the ecclesial Communities, as well as practical collaboration in facing the challenges of the contemporary world. However we know well that we are still far from that unity for which Christ prayed and which we find reflected in that portrait of the first community of Jerusalem. The unity to which Christ, through his Spirit, calls the Church is not only brought about at the level of organizational structures but at a far deeper level, acquires the form of unity expressed “in the confession of one faith, in the common celebration of divine worship, and in the fraternal harmony of the family of God” (ibid n 2). The search for the re-establishment of unity among the divided Christians cannot therefore be reduced to recognition of the reciprocal differences and the achievement of a peaceful coexistence: what we yearn for is that unity for which Christ himself prayed and which, by its nature is expressed in the communion of faith, of the sacraments, of the ministry. The journey towards this unity must be perceived as a moral imperative, the answer to a precise call of the Lord. For this reason it is necessary not to give in to the temptation of resignation or pessimism, which is lack of trust in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is our duty to continue enthusiastically on our way towards this goal with a strict and serious dialogue in order to deepen the common theological, liturgical and spiritual patrimony; with reciprocal knowledge, with the ecumenical formation of the new generations and, especially, with conversion of heart and with prayer. Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council declared, this “holy objective — the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ — transcends human powers and gifts. It therefore places its hope entirely in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit” (ibid n 24).

The Apostle Paul goes with us and supports us on this journey in search of full and visible unity among all Christians. Today we are solemnly celebrating the Feast of his Conversion. Before the Risen One appeared to him on the road to Damascus saying to him: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting!” (Acts 9:5), Saul was one of relentless adversaries of the early Christian communities. The evangelist Luke describes Saul as one of those who approved the killing of Stephen in the days when a violent persecution broke out against the Christians of Jerusalem. Saul departed from the Holy City to spread the persecution of Christians as far as Syria, and, after his conversion returned there to be introduced to the Apostles by Barnabas, who made himself the guarantor of the authenticity of his encounter with the Lord. From that time Paul was not only admitted to the Church as a member, but also as a preacher of the Gospel together with the other Apostles since, like them, the Risen Lord had appeared to him and he had received the special call to be “a chosen instrument” in order to carry his Name to the peoples (cf Acts 9:15). On his long missionary voyages, Paul, wandering as a pilgrim through different cities and regions, never forgot his bond of communion with the Church of Jerusalem. The collection for the Christians of that community who were very soon in need of help (cf 1 Cor 16:1), occupied an important place in the concerns of Paul who considered it not only a work of charity but the sign and guarantee of unity and communion among the Churches he had founded and the primitive Community of the Holy City, a sign of the unity of the one Church of Christ.

In this atmosphere of intense prayer, I would like to address my cordial welcome to everyone present: to Cardinal Francesco Monterisi, Archpriest of this Basilica, to Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and to the other Cardinals; to my Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, to the Abbot and to the Benedictine monks of this ancient community, to the men and women religious and to the lay people who represent the entire diocesan community of Rome. I wish to greet the Brothers and Sisters of the other Churches and ecclesial Communities represented here this evening in a special way. Among them it gives me special pleasure to address my greeting to the members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, whose meeting is being held here in Rome in these days. Let us entrust the success of your meeting to the Lord, so that it may be a step ahead towards the unity so deeply longed for.

Einen besonderen Gruß möchte ich auch an die Vertreter der Vereinigten Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche Deutschlands richten, die unter der Leitung des bayerischen Landesbischofs nach Rom gekommen sind.

Dear brothers and sisters, trusting in the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, let us therefore invoke the gift of unity. United with Mary, who was present with the Apostles in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost, let us turn to God, source of every gift, so that the miracle of Pentecost may be renewed for us today and, guided by the Holy Spirit, all Christians may re-establish full unity in Christ. Amen."

BXVI - Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Rome - Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, 25 January 2011

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

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are celebrating the Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians, in which all believers in Christ are invited to unite in prayer in order to witness to the deep bond that exists between them and to invoke the gift of full communion. It is providential that in the process of building unity prayer is made central. This reminds us once again that unity cannot be a mere product of human endeavour; it is first and foremost a gift of God which entails growth in communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Second Vatican Council says: “Such prayers in common are certainly a very effective means of petitioning for the grace of unity, and they are a genuine expression of the ties which still bond Catholics to their separated brethren. ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Mt 18:20)” (Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, n 8). The path that leads to the visible unity of all Christians lies in prayer, because, fundamentally, it is not we who “build” unity but God who “builds” it, it comes from him, from the Trinitarian Mystery, from the unity of the Father with the Son in the dialogue of love, which is the Holy Spirit; and our ecumenical commitment must be open to divine action, it must become a daily invocation for God's help. The Church is his and not ours.

The theme chosen for this Year’s Week of Prayer refers to the experience of the first Christian Community in Jerusalem, as it is described in the Acts of the Apostles; we have listened to the text: “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). We must consider that in the past, at the very moment of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon people of different languages and cultures. This means that from the very first the Church has embraced people from different backgrounds and yet, it is that the Spirit creates one body precisely from these differences. Pentecost, as the beginning of the Church, marks the expansion of God’s Covenant to all creatures, all peoples and all epochs, so that the whole of creation may walk towards its true goal: to be a place of unity and love.

In the passage cited from the Acts of the Apostles, 4 characteristics define the first Christian community of Jerusalem as a place of unity and love. St Luke, moreover, does not only want to describe something from the past. He presents this community to us as a model, as a norm for the Church today, since these 4 characteristics must always constitute the Church’s life. The 1st characteristic is its unity, its devotion to listening to the Apostles’ teaching, then to fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. As I have said, still today these 4 elements are the pillars that support the life of every Christian community and constitute the one solid foundation on which to progress in the search for the visible unity of the Church.

We first have devotion to the teaching of the Apostles, that is, listening to their testimony to the mission, to the life, and to the death and Resurrection of the Lord. This is what Paul calls simply the “Gospel”. The first Christians received the Gospel from the lips of the Apostles, they were united by listening to it and by its proclamation because, as St Paul says, “the Gospel... is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith” (Rom 1:16). Still today the community of believers recognizes the reference to the Apostles’ teaching as the norm of its own faith. Hence every effort to build unity among all Christians passes through the deepening of our faithfulness to the depositum fidei passed on to us by the Apostles. A steadfast faith is the foundation of our communion, it is the foundation of Christian unity.

The 2nd element is fraternal communion. At the time of the first Christian community, as it is in our day too, this is the most tangible expression especially for the external world, of unity among the Lord's disciples. We read in the Acts of the Apostles that the early Christians had all things in common and those with possessions and goods sold them to share the proceeds with the needy. This sharing of goods has found ever new forms of expression in the history of the Church. Distinctive among these are the brotherly relations and friendships established between Christians of different denominations. The history of the ecumenical movement is marked by difficulties and uncertainties but it is also a history of brotherhood, of cooperation and of human and spiritual sharing, which has significantly changed relations between believers in the Lord Jesus: we are all working hard to continue on this path. Thus the second element is thus communion. This is primarily communion with God through faith; but communion with God creates communion among ourselves and is necessarily expressed in that concrete communion of which the Acts of the Apostles speak, in other words sharing. No one in the Christian community must be hungry or poor: this is a fundamental obligation. Communion with God, expressed as brotherly communion, is lived out in practice in social commitment, in Christian charity and in justice.

The 3rd element: essential in the life of the first community of Jerusalem was the moment of the breaking of the bread in which the Lord makes himself present, with the unique sacrifice of the Cross, in his unreserved gift of self for the life of his friends: “this is my body which will be given up for you... this is the cup of my blood.... It will be shed for you”. “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church” (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n 1). Communion in Christ’s sacrifice is the crowning point of our union with God and thus also represents the fullness of the unity of Christ’s disciples, full communion. In this Week of Prayer for Unity our regret about the impossibility of sharing the same Eucharistic banquet — a sign that we are still far from achieving that unity for which Christ prayed — is particularly acute. This sorrowful experience, which also gives our prayers a penitential dimension, must become the reason for an even more generous dedication on the part of all so that, once the obstacles that stand in the way of full communion have been removed, the day will come when we can gather round the table of the Lord to break the Eucharistic bread together and to drink from the same chalice.

Lastly, prayer — or as St Luke says prayers — is the 4th characteristic of the early Church of Jerusalem described in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Prayer has always been a constant attitude of disciples of Christ, something that accompanies their daily life in obedience to God’s will, as the Apostle Paul’s words in his First Letter to the Thessalonians also attest: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thes 5:16-18). Christian prayer, participation in Jesus’ prayer, is a filial experience par excellence as the words of the “Our Father” testify — the “we” of God’s children, brothers and sisters — a family prayer that addresses our common Father. Therefore, adopting an attitude of prayer also means opening ourselves to brotherhood. Only in the “we” can we say “Our Father”; so let us open ourselves to brotherhood which comes from being children of the one heavenly Father and from being disposed to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Dear brothers and sisters, as disciples of the Lord we have a common responsibility to the world. We must undertake a common service; like the first Christian community of Jerusalem, starting with what we already share, we must bear a powerful witness supported by reason and spiritually founded on the one God who revealed himself and speaks to us in Christ, in order to be heralds of a message that guides and illumines people today, who all too often lack clear and effective reference points. It is therefore important to increase day by day in reciprocal love, striving to surmount those barriers between Christians that still exist; to feel that real inner unity exists among all those who follow the Lord; to collaborate as closely as possible, working together on the issues that are still unresolved; and above all, to be aware that on this journey we need the Lord’s assistance, he will have to give us even more help for, on our own, unless we “abide in him”, we can do nothing (cf Jn 15:5).

Dear friends, we are once again gathered in prayer — particularly during this Week — together with all those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, Son of God: let us persevere in prayer, let us be a people of prayer, entreating God to grant us the gift of unity so that his plan of salvation and reconciliation may be brought about for the whole world. Thank you."

BXVI - General Audience, Wednesday 19 January 2011 - © Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana