Christian Unity


Pope Francis   16.01.19      General Audience  Pope VI  Audience Hall     Catechesis on the Lord's Prayer

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This coming Friday, with the celebration of Vespers in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins, with the theme: ‘Justice and only justice you shall pursue’.

This year too we are called to pray, that all Christians may return to being one family, consistent with the divine will that “they may all be one” (Jn 17:21).

Ecumenism is not an optional thing. The intention will be that of maturing a common and universal witness in the affirmation of true justice and in support of the weakest, through concrete, appropriate and effective responses.







   
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Today marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, in which all of us are asked to implore from God this great gift. Christian unity is a fruit of God’s grace, and we must dispose ourselves to accept it with generous and open hearts. This evening I am particularly pleased to pray together with representatives of other Churches present in Rome, and I offer them a fraternal and heartfelt greeting. I also greet the ecumenical delegation from Finland, the students of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, who are visiting Rome to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic Church. My greeting also goes to the young Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox students sponsored by the Committee for Cultural Collaboration with Orthodox Churches of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The Book of Deuteronomy sees the people of Israel encamped in the plains of Moab, about to enter the land that God promised them. Here Moses, as a kind father and the leader appointed by the Lord, repeats the Law to the people, and instructs and reminds them that they must live with fidelity and justice once they have been established in the Promised Land.

The passage we have just heard shows how to celebrate the three main feasts of the year: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Weeks), Sukkot (Tabernacles). Each of these feasts requires Israel to give thanks for the good things received from God. The celebration of a feast calls for everyone’s participation. No one is to be excluded: “And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place which the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there” (Deut 16:11).

Each of these feasts requires a pilgrimage to the “place that the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there” (v. 2). There the faithful Israelite must come before God. Though the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt, lacking personal possessions, they are not to “appear before the Lord empty-handed” (v. 16); the gift of each is to correspond to the blessing received from the Lord. In this way, all will receive their share of the country’s wealth and will benefit from God’s goodness.

It should not surprise us that the biblical text passes from the celebration of the three principal feasts to the appointment of judges. The feasts themselves exhort the people to justice, stating that all are fundamentally equal and all equally dependent on God’s mercy. They also invite all to share with others the gifts they have received. Rendering honour and glory to the Lord in these yearly feasts goes hand in hand with rendering honour and justice to one’s neighbour, especially the weak and those in need.

The Christians of Indonesia, reflecting on the theme chosen for this Week of Prayer, decided to draw inspiration from these words of Deuteronomy: “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” (16:20). They are deeply concerned that the economic growth of their country, driven by the mentality of competition, is leaving many in poverty and allowing a small few to become immensely wealthy. This jeopardizes the harmony of a society in which people of different ethnic groups, languages and religions live together and share a sense of responsibility for one another.

But that is not simply the case in Indonesia; it is a situation we see worldwide. When society is no longer based on the principle of solidarity and the common good, we witness the scandal of people living in utter destitution amid skyscrapers, grand hotels and luxurious shopping centres, symbols of incredible wealth. We have forgotten the wisdom of the Mosaic law: if wealth is not shared, society is divided.

Saint Paul, writing to the Romans, applies the same thinking to the Christian community: those who are strong must bear with the weak. It is not Christian “to please ourselves” (15:1). Following Christ’s example, we are to make every effort to build up those who are weak. Solidarity and shared responsibility must be the laws that govern the Christian family.

As God’s holy people, we too constantly find ourselves on the threshold of entering the Lord’s promised kingdom. Yet, since we are also divided, we need to recall God’s summons to justice. Christians too risk adopting the mentality known to the ancient Israelites and contemporary Indonesians, namely that in the pursuit of wealth, we forget about the weak and those in need. It is easy to forget the fundamental equality existing among us: that once we were all slaves to sin, that the Lord saved us in baptism and called us his children. It is easy to think that the spiritual grace granted us is our property, something to which we are due, our property. The gifts we have received from God can also blind us to the gifts given to other Christians. It is a grave sin to belittle or despise the gifts that the Lord has given our brothers and sisters, and to think that God somehow holds them in less esteem. When we entertain such thoughts, we allow the very grace we have received to become a source of pride, injustice and division. And how can we then enter the promised kingdom?

The worship befitting that kingdom, the worship demanded by justice, is a celebration that includes everyone, a feast in which gifts received are available to and shared by all. To take the first steps towards the promised land that is our unity, we must first of all recognize with humility that the blessings we have received are not ours by right, but have come to us as a gift; they were given to be shared with others. Then, we must acknowledge the value of the grace granted to other Christian communities. As a result, we will want to partake of the gifts of others. A Christian people renewed and enriched by this exchange of gifts will be a people capable of journeying firmly and confidently on the path that leads to unity.




Pope Francis  22.01.20   General Audience     Pope VI Audience Hall        Catechesis on Christian Unity      Acts 28: 2 

Pope Francis Christian Unity 22.01.20

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today's catechesis is harmonised with the Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians. This year's theme, which is that of hospitality, was developed by the communities of Malta and Gozo, starting from the passage of the Acts of the Apostles that tells of the hospitality reserved by the inhabitants of Malta to St Paul and his fellow travellers, who were shipwrecked together with him. I referred to just this episode in my catechesis of two weeks ago.

So let us start from the dramatic experience of that shipwreck. The ship in which Paul was travelling was at the mercy of the elements. They had been at sea for fourteen days, adrift, and since neither the sun nor the stars are visible, the seafarers felt disoriented, lost. Beneath them the sea is striking violently against the ship and they fear that it will break under the force of the waves. From above they are lashed by the wind and rain. The strength of the sea and the storm is terribly powerful and indifferent to the fate of the seafarers: there were more than 260 people!

But Paul who knows that is not like this, speaks. His faith tells him that his life is in the hands of God, who rose Jesus from the dead, and who called him, Paul, to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. His faith also tells him that God, according to what Jesus has revealed, is a loving Father. Therefore Paul turns to his fellow travellers and, inspired by faith, announces to them that God will not allow a hair of their head to be lost.

This prophecy comes true when the ship runs aground on the coast of Malta and all of the passengers reach the mainland safely. And there they experience something new. In contrast to the brutal violence of the stormy sea, they receive the testimony of the "rare humanity" of the inhabitants of the island. These people, foreign to them, are attentive to their needs. They light a fire to warm them up, and give them shelter from the rain and food. Even though they have not yet received the Good News of Christ, they show God's love in concrete acts of kindness. In fact, spontaneous hospitality and thoughtful gestures communicate something about God's love. And the hospitality of the Maltese islanders is repaid by the miracles of healing that God works through Paul on the island. So, if the people of Malta were a sign of God's Providence for the Apostle, he too witnessed God's merciful love for them.

Dear ones, hospitality is important; and it is also an important ecumenical virtue. First of all, it means acknowledging that other Christians are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ. We're brothers. Someone will tell you: "But that is Protestant, the orthodox one ..." Yes, but we are brothers in Christ. It is not an one-way act of generosity, because when we give hospitality to other Christians we welcome them as a gift that is given to us. Like the Maltese - these good Maltese - we are rewarded, because we receive what the Holy Spirit has sown in these brothers and sisters of ours, and this becomes a gift for us too, because the Holy Spirit also sows his graces everywhere. Welcoming Christians of another tradition means firstly showing God's love to them, because they are children of God – our brothers – and also means welcoming what God has accomplished in their lives. Ecumenical hospitality requires a willingness to listen to others, paying attention to their personal stories of faith and the history of their community, communities of faith with another tradition other than our own. Ecumenical hospitality involves the desire to know the experience that other Christians have of God and the expectation of receiving the spiritual gifts that come with it. And this is a grace, discovering this is a grace. I think of the past, my land for example. When some evangelical missionaries came, a small group of Catholics went to burn their tents. This is not: it is not Christian. We are brothers, we are all brothers and we have to give hospitality with each other.

Today, the sea on which Paul and his companions were shipwrecked is once again a dangerous place for the lives of other seafarers. All over the world, migrant men and women face risky journeys to escape violence, to escape war, to escape poverty. As Paul and his companions experience indifference, the hostility of the desert, of rivers, of the seas... So many times they don't let them land in the ports. But, unfortunately, they sometimes also encounter much worse hostility from men. They are exploited by criminal traffickers: today! They are treated as numbers and as a threat by some rulers: today! Sometimes inhospitality rejects them like a wave back to the poverty or the dangers from which they have fled.

We, as Christians, must work together to show migrants the love of God revealed by Jesus Christ. We can and must testify that there is not only hostility and indifference, but that every person is precious to God and loved by Him. The divisions that still exist between us prevent us from being fully the sign of God's love. Working together to live ecumenical hospitality, especially towards those whose lives are most vulnerable, will make us all Christians – Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, all Christians – better human beings, better disciples and a Christian people that is more united. It will bring us ever closer to unity, which is God's will for us.




Pope Francis   25.01.20  Celebration of Second Vespers , Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls     Solemnity of the Conversion of St Paul      Acts 27: 18 to 28: 10
53rd Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Pope Francis Christian Unity 25.01.20

Three different groups were on board the ship that brought Saint Paul to Rome as a prisoner. The most powerful group was made up of soldiers under a centurion. Then there were the sailors, upon whom naturally everyone on board depended during the long voyage. Finally, there were the weakest and most vulnerable: the prisoners.

When the ship ran aground off the coast of Malta, after having been at the mercy of a storm for several days, the soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to ensure that no one would escape, but they were stopped by the centurion who wanted to save Paul. Although he was among the most vulnerable, Paul offered something important to his traveling companions. While everyone was losing all hope of survival, the Apostle brought an unexpected message of hope. An angel had reassured him, saying to him: “Do not be afraid, Paul; God has granted safety to all those who sail with you” (Acts 27:24). Paul’s trust proved to be well founded, and in the end all the travellers were saved. Once they landed at Malta, they experienced the hospitality, kindness and humanity of the island’s inhabitants. This important detail provided the theme of the Week of Prayer that concludes today.

Dear brothers and sisters: this account from the Acts of the Apostles also speaks to our ecumenical journey towards that unity which God ardently desires. In the first place, it tells us that those who are weak and vulnerable, those who have little to offer materially but find their wealth in God, can present valuable messages for the good of all. Let us think of Christian communities: even the smallest and least significant in the eyes of the world, if they experience the Holy Spirit, if they are animated by love for God and neighbour, have a message to offer to the whole Christian family. Let us think of marginalized and persecuted Christian communities. As in the account of Paul’s shipwreck, it is often the weakest who bring the most important message of salvation. This was what pleased God: to save us not with the power of this world, but with the weakness of the cross (cf. 1 Cor 1:20-25). As disciples of Jesus, we must be careful not to be attracted by worldly logic, but rather to listen to the small and the weak, because God loves to send his messages through those who most resemble his Son made man.

The account in Acts reminds us of a second aspect: God’s priority is the salvation of all. As the angel said to Paul: “God has granted safety to all those who sail with you”. Paul insists on this point. We too need to repeat it: it is our duty to put into effect the paramount desire of God who, as Paul himself writes, “desires everyone to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). This is an invitation not to devote ourselves exclusively to our own communities, but to open ourselves to the good of all, to the universal gaze of God who took flesh in order to embrace the whole human race and who died and rose for the salvation of all. If we, with his grace, can assimilate his way of seeing things, we can overcome our divisions. In Paul’s shipwreck, each person contributed to the salvation of all: the centurion made important decisions, the sailors put to use their knowledge and abilities, the Apostle encouraged those without hope. Among Christians as well, each community has a gift to offer to the others. The more we look beyond partisan interests and overcome the legacies of the past in the desire to move forward towards a common landing place, the more readily we will recognize, welcome and share these gifts.

We thus arrive at a third aspect that was at the centre of this Week of Prayer: hospitality. In the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke says, with regard to the inhabitants of Malta, “The natives showed us unusual kindness” (v. 2). The fire kindled on the shore to warm the shipwrecked travellers is a fine symbol of the human warmth that unexpectedly surrounded them. Even the governor of the island showed himself welcoming and hospitable to Paul, who repaid him by healing his father and later many other sick people (cf. vv. 7-9). Finally, when the Apostle and those with him departed for Italy, the Maltese generously resupplied them with provisions (v. 10).

From this Week of Prayer we want to learn to be more hospitable, in the first place among ourselves as Christians and among our brothers and sisters of different confessions.
Pope Francis Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 25.01.20
Hospitality belongs to the tradition of Christian communities and families. Our elders taught us this by their example: there was always something extra on the table of a Christian home for a passing friend or a person in need who knocked on the door. In monasteries a guest is treated with great respect, as if he or she were Christ. Let us not lose, indeed let us revive, these customs that have the flavour of the Gospel!

Dear brothers and sisters, with these thoughts I offer my cordial and fraternal greetings to His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to His Grace Ian Ernest, the personal representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to all the representatives of the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities gathered here to conclude together the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I greet the students of the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, who are visiting Rome to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic Church. I welcome too the young people of the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches who are studying on a scholarship from the Committee for Cultural Cooperation with the Orthodox Churches, under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, to whose members I extend my greetings and gratitude. Together, without ever tiring, let us continue to pray and to beg from God the gift of full unity among ourselves.






Pope Francis       20.01.21  General Audience, Library of the Apostolic Palace       Catechesis - Prayer for Christian Unity       John 17: 1,9, 20-21


Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Pope Francis - Christian Unity - General Audience 20.01.2021


In this catechesis, we will reflect on the prayer for Christian unity. In fact, the week of the 18th to the 25th of January is dedicated specifically to this – to ask God for the gift of unity to overcome the scandal of division between believers in Jesus. After the Last Supper, He prayed for His own, “that they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). This was His prayer before the Passion, we could call it His spiritual testament. Let us note, however, that the Lord did not command that His disciples be united. No, He prayed. He prayed to the Father for us, so that we might be one. This means that we are not able to achieve unity with our own strength. Above all, unity is a gift, it is a grace to be requested through prayer.

Each one of us needs it. In fact, we know that we are not capable of preserving unity even within ourselves. Even the apostle Paul felt a painful conflict within himself: wanting the good but inclined toward evil (see Rm 7:19). He had thus grasped the root of so many divisions that surround us – between people, in families, in society, between nations and even between believers – and inside us. The Second Vatican Council stated, “the imbalances under which the world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man. For in man himself many elements wrestle with one another. […] Hence he suffers from internal divisions, and from these flow so many and such great discords in society” (Gaudium et spes, 10). Therefore, the solution to these divisions is not to oppose someone, because discord generates more discord. The true remedy begins by asking God for peace, reconciliation, unity.

And this is valid, first of all, for Christians. Unity can be achieved only as a fruit of prayer. Diplomatic efforts and academic dialogue are not enough. These things are done, but they are not enough. Jesus knew this and opened the way for us by praying. Our prayer for unity is thus a humble but trusting participation in the Lord’s prayer, who promised that any prayer said in His name would be heard by the Father (see Jn 15:7). At this point, we can ask ourselves: “Do I pray for unity?” It is Jesus’s will but, if we inspect the intentions for which we pray, we would probably realize that we have prayed little, perhaps never, for Christian unity. And yet, the world’s faith depends on it; in fact, the Lord asked that we be one “so that the world might believe” (Jn 17:21). The world will not believe because we will have convinced it with good arguments, but if we will have borne witness to that love that unites us and draws us near, yes: it will believe.

During this time of serious hardship, this prayer is even more necessary so that unity might prevail over conflicts. It is urgent that we set aside preferences to promote the common good, and so our good example is fundamental: it is essential that Christians pursue the path toward full visible unity. In the last decades, thanks be to God, there have been many steps forward, but we still need to persevere in love and in prayer, without lacking trust or tiring. It is the path that the Holy Spirit gave rise to in the Church, in Christians and in us, from which there is no turning back. Ever onward.

To pray means to fight for unity. Yes, fight, because our enemy, the devil, is the one who divides, as the word itself says. Jesus asks the Holy Spirit for unity, to create unity. The devil always divides. He always divides because it is convenient for him to divide. He fosters division everywhere and in any way, while the Holy Spirit always joins in unity. In general, the devil does not tempt us with high theology, but with the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters. He is astute: he magnifies others’ mistakes and defects, sows discord, provokes criticism and creates factions. God has another way: He takes us as we are, He loves us so much, but He loves us as we are and takes us as we are; He takes those of us who are different, He takes sinners, and He always nudges us towards unity. We can evaluate ourselves and ask ourselves if, in the places in which we live, we nurture conflict or fight for an increase of unity with the tools that God has given us: prayer and love. What fuels conflict, instead, is gossip, always talking behind peoples’ backs. Gossip is the most handy weapon the devil has to divide the Christian community, to divide families, to divide friends, to always divide. The Holy Spirit always inspires unity.

The theme of this Week of Prayer specifically regards love: “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit” (see Jn 15:5-9). The root of communion and love is Christ who makes us overcome our prejudices to see in others a brother or sister to be loved always. Then we will discover that the Christians of other confessions – with their traditions, with their history – are gifts from God, they are gifts present within the territories of our diocesan and parish communities. Let us begin to pray for them and, when possible, with them. We will thus learn to love and appreciate them. Prayer, the Council reminds us, is the soul of every ecumenical movement (see Unitatis redintegratio, 8). Therefore, may prayer be the starting point to help Jesus make His dream come true: that they all may be one. Thank you.





Pope Francis Homily   25.01.21
Second Vespers Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls    54th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - Year B      John 15: 1-17
Conversion of Saint Paul

Pope Francis - Christian Unity Homily - Second Vespers - 25.01.2021

“Abide in my love” (Jn 15:9). Jesus links this request to the image of the vine and the branches, the final image that he offers us in the Gospels. The Lord himself is the vine, the “true” vine (v. 1), who does not betray our expectations, but remains ever faithful in love, despite our sins and our divisions. Onto this vine, which is himself, all of us, the baptized, are grafted like branches. This means that we can grow and bear fruit only if we remain united to Jesus. Tonight let us consider this indispensable unity, which has a number of levels. With the vine in mind, we can imagine unity as consisting of three concentric rings, like those of a tree trunk.

The first circle, the innermost, is abiding in Jesus. This is the starting point of the journey of each person towards unity. In today’s fast-paced and complex world, it is easy to lose our compass, pulled as we are from every side. Many people feel internally fragmented, unable to find a fixed point, a stable footing, amid life’s changes. Jesus tells us that the secret of stability is to abide in him. In this evening’s reading, he says this seven times (cf. vv. 4-7.9-10). For he knows that “apart from him, we can do nothing” (cf. v. 5). Jesus also showed us how to abide in him. He left us his own example: each day he withdrew to pray in deserted places. We need prayer, as we need water, to live. Personal prayer, spending time with Jesus, adoration, these are essential if we are to abide in him. In this way, we can place our worries, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows in the Lord’s heart. Most of all, centred on Jesus in prayer, we can experience his love. And in this way receive new vitality, like the branches that draw sap from the trunk. This is the first unity, our personal integrity, the work of the grace we receive by abiding in Jesus.

The second circle is that of unity with Christians. We are branches of the same vine, we are “communicating vessels”, in the sense that the good or the evil that each of us does affects all others. In the spiritual life, then, there is also a sort of “law of dynamics”: to the extent that we abide in God, we draw close to others, and to the extent that we draw close to others, we abide in God. This means that if we pray to God in spirit and truth, then we come to realize our need to love others while, on the other hand, “if we love one another, God abides in us” (1 Jn 4:12). Prayer unfailingly leads to love; otherwise, it is empty ritual. For it is not possible to encounter Jesus apart from his Body, made up of many members, as many as are the baptized. If our worship is genuine, we will grow in love for all those who follow Jesus, regardless of the Christian communion to which they may belong, for even though they may not be “one of ours”, they are his.

Even so, we know that loving our brothers and sisters is not easy, because their defects and shortcomings immediately become apparent, and past hurts come to mind. Here the Father comes to our aid, for as an expert farmer (cf. Jn 15:1), he knows exactly what to do: “every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (Jn 15:2). The Father takes away and prunes. Why? Because in order to love, we need to be stripped of all that leads us astray and makes us withdraw into ourselves and thus fail to bear fruit. Let us ask the Father, then, to prune our prejudices with regard to others, and the worldly attachments that stand in the way of full unity with all his children. Thus purified in love, we will be able to be less concerned about the worldly obstacles and stumbling stones from the past, which nowadays distract us from the Gospel.

The third circle of unity, the largest, is the whole of humanity. Here, we can reflect on the working of the Holy Spirit. In the vine that is Christ, the Spirit is the sap that spreads to all the branches. The Spirit blows where he wills, and everywhere he wants to restore unity. He impels us to love not only those who love us and think as we do, but to love everyone, even as Jesus taught us. He enables us to forgive our enemies and the wrongs we have endured. He inspires us to be active and creative in love. He reminds us that our neighbours are not only those who share our own values and ideas, and that we are called to be neighbours to all, good Samaritans to a humanity that is frail, poor and, in our own time, suffering so greatly. A humanity lying by the roadsides of our world, which God wants to raise up with compassion. May the Holy Spirit, the source of grace, help us to live in gratuitousness, to love even those who do not love us in return, for it is through pure and disinterested love that the Gospel bears fruit. A tree is known by its fruits: by our gratuitous love it will be known if we are part of the vine of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit thus teaches us the concreteness of love for all those brothers and sisters with whom we share the same humanity, the humanity which Christ inseparably united to himself by telling us that we will always find him in the poor and those in greatest need (cf. Mt 25: 31-45). By serving them together, we will realize once more that we are brothers and sisters, and will grow in unity. The Spirit, who renews the face of the earth, also inspires us to care for our common home, to make bold choices about how we live and consume, for the opposite of fruitfulness is exploitation, and it is shameful for us to waste precious resources of which many others are deprived.

That same Spirit, the architect of the ecumenical journey, has led us this evening to pray together. As we experience the unity that comes from addressing God with one voice, I would like to thank all those who in the course of this week have prayed, and continue to pray, for Christian unity. I offer a fraternal greeting to the representatives of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities gathered here, to the young Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox studying here in Rome under the aegis of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and to the professors and students of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, who would have come to Rome as in previous years, but were unable to do so because of the pandemic and are following us through the media. Dear brothers and sisters, may we remain united in Christ. May the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts make us feel children of the Father, brothers and sisters of one another, brothers and sisters in our one human family. May the Holy Trinity, communion of love, make us grow in unity.