"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Looking Back in Preparation

Continuing our preparation for the one hundredth Octave of Church Unity, I thought it might be helpful to reflect on what Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have said during the Octave of Church Unity in recent years.

(This photo was taken on January 27, 1999, at the TWA Dome in St. Louis. I was there at that mass. It was the only time I saw Pope John Paul II in person. But there is virtue even in his shadow -- Acts 5:15. And I may very well have been in the presence of a saint.)

In 2001, John Paul II said,

"the quest for unity, to which Christ´s disciples are called, is one of the tasks exacting the greatest commitment."

In 2002, John Paul II said,

"It is vital that Christians should pray incessantly for unity, which will come not as the fruit of human effort, but as a grace given at a time and in a way that we do not know," the Pope said. "Our prayer, however, must be joined by a determination to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ with one heart and voice, so that the world may believe."

This commitment calls for sacrifices, but it is based on faith in the power of the cross, he said. "From the side of the crucified Lord there flows the life-giving stream that will heal the wounds of division," John Paul II said.

He continued: "We have already traveled far on the ecumenical journey, and there can be no turning back. Certainly the Catholic Church remains committed irrevocably to following the path of the ecumenical venture."

"The Spirit must lead us, step by step, to discover the things that we can do together to hasten the full and visible communion of all Christians. May he who can ´do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine´ help us in this task," the Pope continued.

In 2003, John Paul II said,

The reconstruction of the unity of all the baptized is, in effect, a gift from God, and our effort alone is not sufficient to bring it about, but when Christians come together, see themselves as brothers, collaborate to alleviate sufferings, and pray for unity, they contribute to make the face of Christ and his glory shine.

On this second day of the "Week of Prayer," the verse proposed for meditation is taken from the same text of the Apostle and says: "We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained" (2 Corinthians 4:8). Yes, we are afflicted by the divisions, and many are the barriers that still separate us! But we are not crushed, because the glory of the Lord, which shines in us, continues to guide us toward purification and reciprocal forgiveness, and infuses light and strength to the prayer that we raise together to God, so that he will heal the wound of our division.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us ask the Lord to make the communion among Christians grow to fullness, in truth and charity. May this be our joint invocation.

In 2004, John Paul II gave an address on Christ's peace. (The news story about this address is here.) In his address he said the following:

The gift given to the apostles, therefore, is not just any kind of "peace," but Christ's very own peace: "my peace," as he said. And, to make himself understood more plainly: I give you my peace, "not as the world gives" (John 14:27).

The world longs for peace, has need of peace -- today as yesterday -- but it often seeks it with improper means, at times even with recourse to force or with the balance of opposing powers. In such situations, man lives with a heart troubled by fear and uncertainty. The peace of Christ, instead, reconciles spirits, purifies hearts, converts minds.

The theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was proposed this year by an ecumenical group of the city of Aleppo in Syria. This leads me to recall the pilgrimage that I had the joy of making to Damascus. In particular, I recall with gratitude the warm welcome I received from the two Orthodox patriarchs and the Greek-Catholic. That meeting still represents a sign of hope for the ecumenical path. Ecumenism, however, as the Second Vatican Council reminds us, is not genuine if there is no "change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds, from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop" (decree on ecumenism "Unitatis Redintegratio," 7).

There is growing awareness of the need for a profound spirituality of peace and peacemaking, not only among those who are directly involved in ecumenical work, but among all Christians. In fact, the cause of unity concerns every believer, called to form part of the one people redeemed by the blood of Christ on the cross.

It is encouraging to see how the quest for unity among Christians is spreading increasingly thanks to opportune initiatives, which touch different realms of the ecumenical commitment. Among these signs of hope I am pleased to count the increase of fraternal charity and the progress noted in theological dialogues with several Churches and ecclesial communities. In the latter it has been possible to come to, in varying degrees and characteristics, important convergences on topics, which in the past, were intensely controversial.

Taking into account these positive signs, one must not be discouraged in the face of the old and new difficulties one meets, but address them with patience and understanding, always counting on divine help.

"Where there is charity and love, God is there": so the liturgy prays and sings this week, reliving the atmosphere of the Last Supper. From mutual charity and love spring the peace and unity of all Christians, who can make a decisive contribution so that humanity will overcome the reasons for divisions and conflicts.

Together with prayer, dear brothers and sisters, let us also feel strongly stimulated to make our own the effort to be genuine "peacemakers" (see Matthew 5:9), in the environments in which we live.

At the end of the Octave he said:

Jesus' wish that all Christians be united is "a binding imperative, the strength that sustains us, and a salutary rebuke for our slowness and closed-heartedness," the Holy Father said.

"The unity of Christians has been a constant desire of my pontificate and it continues to be a demanding priority of my ministry," the Pope said. "Let us never lessen our commitment to pray for unity and to seek it incessantly."

"Obstacles, difficulties, and even misunderstandings and failures, cannot and must not discourage us," he said. "Confidence in reaching, also in history, the full and visible communion of Christians rests not on our human capacities, but on the prayer of our common Lord."

In June of 2004 Pope John Paul II appealed to all Christians to intensify their efforts for unity.

In 2005 during the Octave of Church Unity, just over two months before he died, Pope John Paul II reminded us that ecumenical success requires an inner conversion. He also pointed out that this unity is a gift of God, and so we must pray for it. Here is selection from the news story of his address:

"They are extremely opportune days of reflection and prayer," the Holy Father said, "to remind Christians that the restoration of full unity among them, according to the will of Jesus, involves every baptized person, both pastors as well as the faithful."

Addressing several thousand people gathered in Paul VI Hall, the Pope noted that this Week of Prayer takes place months after the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's decree "
Unitatis Redintegratio," a "key text which has placed the Catholic Church firmly and irrevocably in the line of the ecumenical movement."

The theme presented for meditation this year by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is "Christ, the Only Foundation of the Church."

The Holy Father called the theme "a fundamental truth for all ecumenical commitment."

Quoting Vatican II, he explained: "Given that the reconciliation of Christians surpasses human powers and capacities, prayer gives expression to hope that does not disappoint, to trust in the Lord who makes all things new.

"But prayer must be accompanied by purification of the mind, the feelings and the memory. Thus it becomes an expression of that 'inner conversion,' without which there is no true ecumenism."

"In a word," John Paul II said, "unity is a gift of God, a gift to be tirelessly implored with humility and truth."

The Holy Father sounded optimistic, saying that the "desire for unity is spreading and deepening, touching new environments and contexts, arousing fervor for works, initiatives and reflections."

"Recently the Lord has also enabled his disciples to engage in important contacts of dialogue and collaboration. The pain of separation is felt with ever greater intensity, given the challenges of a world that awaits a clear and unanimous evangelical testimony on the part of all believers in Christ," he said. [...]

The Pope added: "I also ask you to pray so that the whole family of believers may attain as soon as possible the full communion desired by Christ."

At the end of the week he

I invite the Christian communities to live intensely this annual spiritual event, in which we have a foretaste, in a certain sense, of the joy of full communion, at least in desire, and unanimous invocation. In fact, one is ever more clearly aware that unity is, in the first place, a gift of God to be implored tirelessly in humility and truth.

On April 20, 2005, in the first message of his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI stated that his primary commitment would be the work of promoting full visible unity among Christians separated in various churches and confessions.

In September of 2005, Pope Benedict said the following: "To achieve the full communion of Christians must be an objective for all those who profess faith in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, "faithful and shepherds alike."

In 2006, at the beginning of the Octave of Church Unity, Pope Benedict gave the following address. (This news article is here.)

"Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:19). This solemn assurance of Jesus to his disciples sustains our prayer. Today begins the by-now traditional Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an important appointment to reflect on the tragedy of the division of the Christian community and to pray with Jesus himself "that they may all be one so that the world may believe" (John 17:21). We also do so here, in harmony with a great multitude in the world. The prayer "for the unity of all" involves, in different ways and times, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, united by faith in Jesus Christ, only Lord and Savior.

The prayer for unity forms part of that central nucleus that the Second Vatican Council calls "the soul of the whole ecumenical movement" ("Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 8), a nucleus that includes precisely public and private prayers, conversion of heart, and holiness of life. This view presents us the core of the ecumenical problem, which is obedience to the Gospel to do the will of God with his necessary and effective help. The Council explained it explicitly to the faithful declaring: "For the closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love" (ibid., No. 7).

The elements that, despite the lasting division, continue to unite Christians sustain the possibility to raise a common prayer to God. This communion in Christ sustains the whole ecumenical movement and indicates the objective of the search for the unity of all Christians in the Church of God. This distinguishes the ecumenical movement from any other initiative of dialogue or of relations with other religions and ideologies.

On this, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council's decree on ecumenism was also precise: "This movement toward unity is called 'ecumenical.' Those belong to it who invoke the Triune God and confess Jesus as Lord and Savior" (ibid., No. 1). The common prayers that take place throughout the world particularly in this period, or around Pentecost, express moreover the will of a common effort for the re-establishment of the full communion of all Christians. "Such prayers in common are certainly an effective means of obtaining the grace of unity" (ibid., No. 8).

With this affirmation, the Second Vatican Council interprets definitively what Jesus says to his disciples, whom he assures that if two gather on earth to ask anything of the Father who is in heaven, he will grant it "because" where two or three gather in his name, he is in their midst. After the resurrection, he assures them he will be with them "always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). The presence of Jesus in the community of disciples and in our prayer guarantees efficacy. To the point that he promises that "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:18).

But we do not limit ourselves to implore. We can also give thanks to the Lord for the new situation that, with effort, has been created in the ecumenical relations among Christians with the fraternity that has been found again through the strong bonds of solidarity established, of the growth of communion and of the convergences carried out -- surely in an unequal manner -- between the different dialogues. There are many reasons to thank God. And if there is still much to be done and to hope for, let us not forget that God has given us much on the path to unity. For this reason, we are grateful to him for these gifts. The future is before us.

The Holy Father John Paul II, of happy memory, who did so much and suffered for the ecumenical question, taught us opportunely that "An appreciation of how much God has already given is the condition which disposes us to receive those gifts still indispensable for bringing to completion the ecumenical work of unity" ("Ut Unum Sint," No. 41). Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us continue to pray so as to be aware that the holy cause of the re-establishment of Christian unity exceeds our poor human efforts and that unity, finally, is a gift of God.

On the Sunday in the middle of the Octave, he gave
this homily in which he said, "We must not doubt that one day we will be one."

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

This Sunday is celebrated in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place every year from Jan. 18-25. It is an initiative, born at the beginning of the past century, which has undergone a positive development, increasingly becoming an ecumenical point of reference, in which Christians of the various confessions worldwide pray and reflect on the same biblical text.

The passage chosen this year is taken from chapter 18 of Matthew's Gospel, which refers to some of the teachings of Jesus that affect the community of disciples. Among other things, it affirms: "If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:19-20).

These words of the Lord Jesus infuse much confidence and hope! In particular, they invite Christians to ask God together for that full unity among them, for which Christ himself, with heartfelt insistence, prayed to the Father during the Last Supper (cf. John 17:11,21,23). We understand, therefore, the reason why it is so important that we, Christians, invoke the gift of unity with persevering constancy. If we do so with faith, we can be sure that our request will be heard. We do not know when or how, as it is not for us to know, but we must not doubt that one day we will be "one," as Jesus and the Father are united in the Holy Spirit.

The prayer for unity is the soul of the ecumenical movement, which, thanks be to God, advances throughout the world. Of course difficulties and trials are not lacking, but these also have their spiritual usefulness, as they drive us to have patience and perseverance and to grow in fraternal charity. God is love and only if we are converted to him and accept his Word will we all be united in the one Mystical Body of Christ.

The expression, "God is love," in Latin "Deus Caritas Est," is the title of my first encyclical, which will be published next Wednesday, Jan. 25, feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. I am happy it coincides with the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. On that day, I will go to St. Paul's Basilica to preside at Vespers, in which representatives of other churches and ecclesial communities will take part. May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, intercede for us.

At the end of the Octave, hours after his first encyclical (
Deus Caritas Est) had been published, he spoke about how our assurance that God is love gives us hope for full communion among all Christ's disciples.

"God is love. On this solid rock is founded the whole of the Church's faith. In particular, on it is based the patient search for full communion among all of Christ's disciples," the Holy Father affirmed Wednesday in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. He was addressing representatives of various Christian confessions gathered for solemn vespers.

"Fixing one's gaze on this truth, summit of divine revelation, despite the fact that divisions maintain their painful gravity, they seem surmountable and do not discourage us," the Pope noted.

Among the participants on hand were 150 delegates of various churches, bishops' conferences, communities and ecumenical bodies taking part in a meeting of the Preparatory Commission of the 3rd European Ecumenical Assembly.

Hours earlier, "Deus Caritas Est," Benedict XVI's first encyclical, was published. The Holy Father took advantage of the homily at the solemn vespers to offer the ecumenical vision implicit in that encyclical.

Light of love

The Pope invited his listeners to conceive "the whole ecumenical path in the light of the love of God, of the Love that is God."

"If even from the human point of view love is manifested as an invincible force, what do we have to say, who 'know and believe the love God has for us'?" he asked, quoting a line from 1 John 4:16.

"Authentic love does not cancel the legitimate differences, but harmonizes them in a higher unity, which is imposed on us from outside, but, to say it another way, gives shape from the interior to the whole," the Holy Father said.

"It is the mystery of communion that, as it unites man and woman in that community of love and life which is marriage, so it conforms the Church as community of love, giving unity to a multiform richness of gifts, of traditions," Benedict XVI continued.

"At the service of that unity of love is found the Church of Rome that, according to the expression of St. Ignatius of Antioch, 'presides in charity,'" he said.

Addressing the ecumenical representatives, the Bishop of Rome again placed in God's hands "my particular Petrine ministry, invoking on it the light and strength of the Holy Spirit so that he will always foster fraternal communion among all Christians."

With this spirit, the Pontiff invited all those present to pray together for unity, as "to implore together is already a step toward unity among those praying for it."

God's generosity

"This does not mean of course that God's answer will come, in a certain sense, determined by our request," he explained. "We know it well: The desired fulfillment of unity depends in the first place on the will of God, whose plan and generosity surpasses man's comprehension and his very requests and expectations."

In 2007, at the opening of the Octave of Church Unity, Pope Benedict said in his homily, "We must not be discouraged".

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins tomorrow. I myself will conclude it in the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls this 25 January with the celebration of Vespers, to which representatives of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities of Rome are also invited.

The days from 18 to 25 January, and in other parts of the world the week around Pentecost, are a strong time of commitment and prayer on the part of all Christians, who can avail themselves of the booklets produced jointly by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.

I have been able to sense how sincere the desire for unity is at the meetings I have had with various representatives of Churches and Ecclesial Communities in these years, and in a most moving way, during my recent Visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Istanbul, Turkey.

On these and on other experiences that opened my heart to hope, I will reflect at greater length next Wednesday. The way to unity remains long and laborious; yet, it is necessary not to be discouraged and to journey on, in the first place relying on the unfailing support of the One who, before ascending into Heaven, promised his followers: "I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20).

Unity is a gift of God and the fruit of his Spirit's action. Consequently, it is important to pray. The closer we draw to Christ, converting to his love, the closer we also draw to one another.

In some countries, including Italy, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is preceded by the Day of Christian-Jewish reflection, which is celebrated precisely today, 17 January.

For almost 20 years now the Italian Bishops' Conference has dedicated this Judaism Day to furthering knowledge and esteem for it and for developing the relationship of reciprocal friendship between the Christian and Jewish communities, a relationship that has developed positively since the Second Vatican Council and the historic visit of the Servant of God John Paul II to the Major Synagogue of Rome.

To grow and be fruitful, the Jewish-Christian friendship must also be based on prayer. Therefore, today I invite you all to address an ardent prayer to the Lord that Jews and Christians may respect and esteem one another and collaborate for justice and peace in the world.

This year the biblical theme proposed for common reflection and prayer during this "Week" is: "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mk 7:31-37). These words are taken from Mark's Gospel and refer to the healing of a deaf-mute by Jesus. In this short passage, the Evangelist recounts that the Lord, after putting his fingers into his ears and touching his tongue with saliva, worked the miracle by saying: "Ephphatha", which means "be opened". Having regained his hearing and the gift of speech, the man roused the admiration of others by telling what had happened to him.

Every Christian, spiritually deaf and mute because of original sin, receives with Baptism the gift of the Lord who places his fingers on his face and thus, through the grace of Baptism, becomes able to hear the Word of God and to proclaim it to his brethren. Indeed, from that very moment it is his task to mature in knowledge and love for Christ so as to be able to proclaim and witness effectively to the Gospel.

This topic, shedding light on two aspects of the mission of every Christian community -- the proclamation of the Gospel and the witness of charity --, also underlines how important it is to translate Christ's message into concrete initiatives of solidarity. This encourages the journey to unity because it can be said that any relief to the suffering of their neighbour which Christians offer together, however little, also helps to make more visible their communion and fidelity to the Lord's command.

Prayer for Christian unity cannot, however, be limited to one week a year. The unanimous plea to the Lord that in times and ways known only to him he may bring about the full unity of all his disciples must extend to every day of the year.

Furthermore, the harmony of intentions in the service to alleviate human suffering, the search for the truth of Christ's message, conversion and penance are obligatory steps through which every Christian worthy of the name must join his brother or sister to implore the gift of unity and communion.

I exhort you, therefore, to spend these days in an atmosphere of prayerful listening to the Spirit of God, so that important steps may be made on the path to full and perfect communion among all Christ's disciples. May the Virgin Mary obtain this for us; may she, whom we invoke as Mother of the Church and help of all Christians, sustain our way towards Christ.

In the middle of the Octave he spoke about the importance of prayer for achieving unity. (The news story is here.)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Sunday occurs during the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity", which, as is well known, is celebrated each year in our hemisphere between 18 and 25 January. The theme for 2007 is a citation from Mark's Gospel and refers to people's amazement at the healing of the deaf-mute accomplished by Jesus: "He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mk 7:37).

I intend to comment more broadly on this biblical theme this 25 January, the liturgical Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, when at 5: 30 p.m. I will preside at the celebration of Vespers for the conclusion of the "Week of Prayer" in the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls. I expect many of you to come to that liturgical encounter because unity is achieved above all by praying, and the more unanimous the prayer, the more pleasing it is to the Lord.

This year the initial project for the "Week", subsequently adapted by the Joint International Committee, was prepared by the faithful in Umlazi, South Africa, a very poor town where AIDS has acquired pandemic proportions and human hopes are few and far between. But the Risen Christ is hope for everyone. He is so especially for Christians.

As heirs of the divisions that came about in past epochs, on this occasion they have wished to launch an appeal: Christ can do all things, "he makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mk 7:37). He is capable of imbuing Christians with the ardent desire to listen to the other, to communicate with the other and, together with him, speak the language of reciprocal love.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity thus reminds us that ecumenism is a profound dialogical experience, a listening and speaking to one another, knowing one another better; it is a task within everyone's reach, especially when it concerns spiritual ecumenism, based on prayer and sharing which is now possible among Christians.

I hope that the longing for unity, expressed in prayer and brotherly collaboration to alleviate human suffering, may spread increasingly in parishes and ecclesial movements as well as among Religious institutes.

I take this opportunity to thank the Ecumenical Commission of the Vicariate of Rome and the city's parish priests who encourage the faithful to celebrate the "Week".

More generally, I am grateful to all who pray and work for unity with conviction and constancy in every part of the world. May Mary, Mother of the Church, help all the faithful to allow themselves in their innermost depths to be opened by Christ to reciprocal communication in charity and in truth, to become one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32) in him.

His homily at the closing of the Octave (January 25, 2007) can be found here. In that homily he said the following:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

During the "Week of Prayer" that will conclude this evening, the common entreaty addressed to the Lord for Christian unity was intensified in the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities across the world. Together, we meditated on the words of Mark's Gospel that have just been proclaimed: "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mk 7:37), the biblical theme suggested by the Christian Communities of South Africa.

The situations of racism, poverty, conflict, exploitation, sickness and suffering in which they find themselves because of the impossibility of being able to make themselves understood in their needs, gives rise in them to an acute need to hear the word of God and to speak courageously.

Is not being deaf and mute, that is, being unable either to listen or to speak, a sign of a lack of communion and a symptom of division? Division and the inability to communicate, a consequence of sin, are contrary to God's plan. This year Africa has given us a theme for reflection of great religious and political importance, because the ability "to speak" and "to listen" is an essential condition for building the civilization of love.

The words "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" are good news that proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God and the healing of the inability to communicate and of division. This message is rediscovered in all Jesus' preaching and work. Wherever he went, whether traveling through villages, cities or the countryside, the people "laid the sick in the market places, and besought him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well" (Mk 6:56).

The healing of the deaf-mute, on which we have meditated in these days occurred while Jesus, having left the region of Tyre, was making his way to the Sea of Galilee through the so-called "Decapolis", a multi-ethnic and multi-religious district (cf. Mk 7:31), an emblematic situation even in our day.

As elsewhere, in the Decapolis too, they presented a sick man to Jesus, a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment (moghìlalon), begging him to lay his hands upon him because they considered him a man of God.

Jesus took the man aside from the multitude and performed gestures that infer a salvific contact: he put his fingers into his ears, and touched the tongue of the sick man with his own saliva, then, looking up to Heaven, he commanded: "Be opened!". He spoke this command in Aramaic (Ephphatha), in all likelihood the language of the people present and of the deaf-mute himself. The Evangelist translated this term into Greek as (dianoìchthēti). The ears of the deaf man were opened, his tongue was released, and "he spoke plainly" (orthōs).

Jesus exhorted them to say nothing about the miracle. But the more he exhorted them, "the more zealously they proclaimed it" (Mk 7:36). And the comment full of wonder of those who had been there recalls the preaching of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Messiah: "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mk 7:37).

The first lesson we draw from this biblical episode, also recalled in the rite of Baptism, is that listening, in the Christian perspective, is a priority.

In this regard, Jesus says explicitly: "Blessed ... are those who hear the word of God and keep it" (Lk 11:28). Indeed, to Martha worried about many things, he said that "one thing is needful" (Lk 10:42). And from the context it becomes evident that this "one thing" is the obedient listening to the Word. Therefore, listening to the Word of God is a priority for our ecumenical commitment. Indeed, it is not we who act or who organize the unity of the Church. The Church does not make herself or live of herself, but from the creative Word that comes from the mouth of God.

To listen to the word of God together; to practice the lectio divina of the Bible, that is, reading linked with prayer; letting ourselves be amazed by the newness of the Word of God that never ages and is never depleted; overcoming our deafness to those words that do not correspond with our prejudices and our opinions; to listen and also to study, in the communion of believers of all ages; all these things constitute a path to be taken in order to achieve unity in the faith as a response to listening to the Word.

Anyone who listens to the Word of God can and must speak and transmit it to others, to those who have never heard it, or who have forgotten it and buried under the thorny troubles and deceptions of the world (cf. Mt 13:22).

We must ask ourselves: have not we Christians become perhaps too silent? Do we not perhaps lack the courage to speak out and witness as did those who witnessed the healing of the deaf-mute in the Decapolis? Our world needs this witness; above all, it is waiting for the common testimony of Christians.

Therefore listening to the God who speaks also implies a reciprocal listening, the dialogue between the Churches and the Ecclesial Communities. Honest and loyal dialogue is the typical and indispensable instrument in the quest for unity.

The Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council emphasized that if Christians do not know each other reciprocally, progress on the path of communion is unthinkable. Indeed, in dialogue we listen and communicate; we confront one another and, with God's grace, it is possible to converge on his Word, accepting its demands that apply to all.

The Council Fathers did not expect listening and dialogue to be helpful for ecumenical progress alone, but they added a perspective which refers to the Catholic Church herself: "From such dialogue" the conciliar text states, "will emerge still more clearly what the situation of the Catholic Church really is" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 9).

It is indispensable "that the doctrine be clearly presented in its entirety" for a dialogue that confronts, discusses and overcomes the divergences that still exist among Christians, but of course, "the manner and order in which Catholic belief is expressed should in no way become an obstacle to dialogue with our brethren" (ibid., n. 11).

It is necessary to speak correctly (orthos) and in a comprehensible way. The ecumenical dialogue entails evangelical fraternal correction and leads to a reciprocal spiritual enrichment in the sharing of authentic experiences of faith and Christian life.

For this to happen, we must tirelessly implore the help of God's grace and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. This is what the Christians of the whole world did during this special "Week" or what they will do in the Novena that precedes Pentecost, as on every appropriate occasion, raising their trusting prayer that all Christ's disciples may be one, and that, in listening to the Word, they may be able to give a concordant witness with the men and women of our time.

In this atmosphere of intense communion, I would like to address my cordial greeting to all those present: to the Cardinal Archpriest of this Basilica and to the Cardinal President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and to the other Cardinals, to my venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the priesthood, to the Benedictine monks, to the men and women Religious, to the lay people who represent the entire diocesan community of Rome.

I would especially like to greet the brethren from the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities who have taken part in the celebration, thereby renewing the important tradition of concluding the "Week of Prayer" together on the day when we commemorate the striking conversion of St Paul on the road to Damascus.

I am pleased to point out that the tomb of the Apostle to the Gentiles, where we are today, has recently undergone investigation and study, subsequent to which it was decided to make it visible to pilgrims by a timely adjustment under the main altar. I express my congratulations on this important initiative.

To the intercession of St Paul, untiring builder of the unity of the Church, I entrust the fruits of listening and of the common witness we have been able to experience in the numerous fraternal meetings and dialogues that took place during 2006, both with the Eastern Churches and with the Churches and Ecclesial Communities in the West.

In these events, it was possible to perceive the joy of brotherhood, together with regret that the tensions endure, keeping ever alive the hope that the Lord kindles within us.

Let us thank all those who helped to intensify the ecumenical dialogue with prayer, with the offering of their suffering and with their tireless action. It is above all to Our Lord Jesus Christ that we render our fervent thanks for everything.

May the Virgin Mary obtain that we may achieve as soon as possible the ardent desire of her divine Son: "that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe" (Jn 17:21).

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