At the General Audience Benedict XVI speaks of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
For a common response
to the spiritual thirst of our time
“How can we give a convincing witness if we are divided?”. It was in the perspective of the New Evangelization on Wednesday morning, 18 January, that the Pope introduced the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – from Wednesday, 18 January until Wednesday, 25 January – during which prayers will be said in all the Churches for the attainment of the gift of full communion. This is a great challenge to the New Evangelization, the Pontiff said, because it will be “more fruitful when all Christians proclaim together the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and give a common response to the spiritual thirst of our times”.
Benedict XVI took the opportunity of the coincidence of the Week's beginning with the General Audience to retrace the journey through history of a practice that was initiated in 1908 by Paul Wattson, the founder of an Anglican community, who later entered the Catholic Church. Having received the blessing of St Pius X, the initiative was subsequently “promoted” and “encouraged” by Benedict XV with his Brief Romanorum Pontificum of 25 February 1916.
Enriched over the years, today the celebration is developed through the collaboration of a joint group, consisting of representatives of the Catholic Church and of “an ecumenical group”, the Pontiff explained, “from a different region of the world”, responsible for providing the prayer brochures. This year it was Poland's turn. This circumstance, the Pope noted, will encourage people to reflect on “how strong the support of the Christian faith is in trials and upheavals”, such as those that have marked the history of Poland, which, after experiencing a period of democratic coexistence and religious freedom in the last centuries, “was marked by invasions and defeats, and also by the constant struggle against oppression and the thirst for freedom” in a succession of victories and defeats until the discovery of the definitive victory of love in Christ. Hence the choice of the theme for the Week this year: “We will all be changed by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. 1 Cor 15:51-58).
Benedict XVI then reflected briefly on the current state of the journey toward unity of all Christians. To reach this goal, he said, requires us to pray first and foremost in order to obtain an inner conversion that is ”both common and personal”. It is therefore not a matter of seeking formal attitudes of cordiality or cooperation. On the contrary, it is absolutely necessary “to strengthen our faith in God”, in the God who “made himself one of us” and to grasp “all the elements of unity which God has kept for us”.
The Pope traced the nature of the divine gift of Christian unity back to these considerations. It is therefore not secondary but the centre of Christ's own work. For this reason it is an integral part of the responsibility of each baptized person who is called to be and to work together “for the victory, in Christ, over all that is sin, evil, injustice and the violation of human dignity”.
Of course, as Benedict XVI realistically acknowledged, there is still a long way to go; the divisions among Christians endure, even though, “with regard to the fundamental truths of the faith, far more unites than divides us”. Precisely by virtue of these considerations, it is necessary to reinvigorate our prayer. Especially with a view to the New Evangelization, which could be “more fruitful” if all were to proclaim the Gospel together.
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