Two days ago began the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity during which Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants, knowing that their divisions constitute an obstacle to the reception of the Gospel, together implore the Lord, in a yet more intense way, for the gift of full communion. This providential initiative was born 100 years ago, when Father Paul Wattson started the “Octave” of prayer for the unity of all the disciples of Christ. Today for this occasion the spiritual sons and daughters of Father Wattson, the friars and sisters of the Atonement, are present in St. Peter’s Square and I greet them cordially and encourage them to pursue the cause of unity with their special dedication.
We all have the duty to pray and work for the overcoming of every division between Christians, responding to Christ’s desire “ut unum sint.” Prayer, conversion of heart, the reinforcement of the bonds of communion, form the essence of this spiritual movement that we hope will soon lead the disciples of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist together, the manifestation of their full unity.
This year’s biblical theme is dense with meaning: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). St. Paul addresses himself to the community of Thessalonica, which was experiencing internal clashes and conflicts, to remind them with insistence about certain fundamental attitudes, among which there stands out, indeed, incessant prayer. With this invitation of his, he wants it to be understood that from the new life in Christ and in the Holy Spirit there flows forth the capacity to overcome all egoism, to live together in peace and fraternal union, to bear in large measure the burdens and sufferings of others. We must never tire of praying for the unity of Christians! When Jesus, during the Last Supper, prayed that his disciples “be one,” he had a precise goal in mind: “That the world believe” (John 17:21).
The Church’s evangelizing mission, therefore, moves along the path of ecumenism, the path of unity of faith, of evangelical witness and authentic fraternity. As is done every year, on Thursday, Jan. 25, I will go to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with solemn vespers. I invite Romans and pilgrims to join with me and with Christians of all the churches and ecclesial communities who will take part in the celebration, to ask of God the precious gift of reconciliation among all the baptized.
May the Mother of God, whose appearance to Alphonse Ratisbonne in the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Frate in Rome we remember today, obtain from the Lord the abundance of the Holy Spirit for all disciples in such a way that we can arrive at perfect unity and in this way offer the witness of faith and life that the world urgently needs.