"Prayer is at the very heart of the ecumenical journey"
– Benedict XVI
On 23 January 2008 Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his weekly catechesis to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which began on 18 January and will come to an end on Friday, 25 January, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
Addressing the thousands of faithful gathered in the Paul VI Hall, the Pope explained that during the Week "Christians from various Churches and ecclesial communities will come together ... in a choral entreaty to ask the Lord Jesus to re-establish full unity among all His disciples, ... undertaking to work so that all humanity accepts and recognises Him as their only Pastor and Lord".
The Holy Father gave his listeners a broad historical overview of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the theme of which this year is "pray without ceasing": More than 100 years ago Fr. Paul Watson, an Anglican priest from the U.S.A. who later entered into the communion of the Catholic Church, launched "the prophetic idea of an Octave of prayer for the unity of Christians". In 1916 Pope Benedict XV extended the invitation to pray for unity to the entire Catholic Church and later, during Vatican Council II, "the need for unity was felt with even greater urgency".
Vatican Council II promulgated the Decree on Ecumenism "Unitatis Redintegratio" which, the Pope said, "lays great emphasis on the role and the importance of prayer for unity. Prayer", he added, "is at the very heart of the ecumenical journey".
"It is thanks to this spiritual ecumenism, founded on prayer and sincere conversion, ... that the joint search for unity has undergone considerable development over the last few decades, diversifying into many different initiatives: from mutual knowledge to fraternal contact between members of different Churches and ecclesial communities, from ever more friendly dialogue to collaboration in various fields, from theological dialogue to the search for tangible forms of communion".
Vatican Council II "also highlighted prayer in common", said Pope Benedict, "because in joint prayer Christian communities come together before the Lord and, aware of the contradictions caused by their divisions, manifest their desire to obey His will". ... Joint prayer is not, then a form of volunteer work or sociology, but an expression of the faith that unites all Christ's disciples".
"It is the awareness of our human limitations that encourages us to abandon ourselves faithfully in the hands of the Lord. ... The profound significance of the Week of Prayer lies precisely in the fact that it is firmly founded on the prayer of Christ ... 'that they may all be one, ... so that the world may believe'".
"So that the world may believe!" the Pope concluded. "We particularly feel the realism of those words today. The world is suffering from the absence of God, ... it wishes to know the face of God. But how can men and women today know the face of God in the face of Christ if we Christians are divided? Only in unity can we truly show the face of God, the face of Christ, to a world which has such need to see it".
Copyright © Vatican Information Service