Words of Pope Benedict XVI...

On 26 January 2008 in the Roman basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, the Pope presided at the celebration of the second Vespers of the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The ceremony, which marked the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, was attended by representatives from other Churches and ecclesial communities.

In his homily the Holy Father referred to the conversion of St. Paul, pointing out that the saint's "knowledge that only divine grace could have achieved such a conversion never abandoned him".

"At the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we are more aware than ever of how much the work of recreating unity, which requires all our energy and commitment, is in any case infinitely beyond our capacities. ... It is not in our power to decide when and how this unity will be fully achieved. Only God can do so".

Benedict XVI recalled the theme of this year's Week of Prayer - "pray without ceasing" - indicating that this "invitation addressed by St. Paul to the Thessalonians retains all its validity. Faced with the weakness and sin that prevent the full communion of Christians" the exhortations of the Apostle "have retained all their pertinence, and this is especially true for the command to "pray without ceasing'", he said.

"What would become of the ecumenical movement without individual and joint prayer 'that they may all be one, as you Father are in me and I am in you'? Where can we find that 'extra drive' of faith, charity and hope of which our search for unity has such need today? Our desire for unity should not be confined to sporadic occasions but should become an integral part of our whole life of prayer. ... There is, then, no form of genuine ecumenism that does not have its roots in prayer".

The Pope dwelt on the figure of Fr. Paul Wattson, who a century ago launched the idea of an Octave of prayer for Christian unity and, giving thanks to God for "the great movement of prayer which, for a hundred years, has accompanied and supported believers in Christ in their search for unity", he said: "The ship of ecumenism would never have left port if it had not been moved by this broad current of prayer and driven along by the breath of the Holy Spirit".

Benedict XVI also spoke of the religious and monastic communities which have over these days "invited and assisted their members 'to pray continually' for the unity of Christians", and he mentioned Sr. Maria Gabriella dell'Unita as one of the outstanding figures who prayed for this goal during the last century. At her beatification ceremony in 1983, John Paul II "highlighted the three elements on which the search for unity is built: conversion, prayer and the cross", said Pope Benedict.

"Ecumenism has great need, today as yesterday, of the great 'invisible monastery', ... of that immense community of Christians of all traditions who, without noise or fuss, pray and offer their lives that unity may be achieved".

After greeting representatives from the World Council of Churches and from the various Churches and ecclesial communities present at St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, the Pope reminded them that the Year dedicated to St. Paul will be inaugurated in the basilica, on 28 June. "May his tireless fervour to build the Body of Christ in unity help us to pray ceaselessly for the full unity of all Christians".

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