01/23/2008, 00.00
VATICAN

Pope: The world wants to see "the face of God", but only in unity can Christians display it

Benedict XVI's address for the general audience is dedicated to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In the 100 years since its institution, Christians have established friendly relations and theological dialogue, but above all they have learned to pray together for the return to full communion.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The world is suffering "from the absence of God, from the inaccessibility of God; it desires to know the face of God", but how can Christians respond to this need if they are divided, "if one teaches against another, if we are pitted against one another"? This is the question that Benedict XVI posed to the six thousand persons present in the Paul VI audience hall for today's general audience, which took place during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The "necessity" of prayer for unity was preciselyat the centre of the pope's reflection, which also briefly mentioned the progress of ecumenical efforts over the past 100 years. The pope recalled that in 1908, an American Anglican, Paul Watson, who later became a Catholic, launched an Octave of prayer for unity, which later became the present week-ling celebration. It was a "fertile intuition", a "prophetic idea", which in 1916 Benedict XV decided to extend to the entire Catholic Church. It then spread to the entire Christian world. Today, the pope reminded his listeners to remember and acknowledge "the originator of this initiative, together with those who have turned it into a common patrimony for all Christians". The ecumenical journey has found one of its most significant realisations in this Week.

Vatican II called even more urgently for unity, and after its conclusion the search for full communion continued. The pope said that the decree "Unitatis Redintegratio" emphasised "forcefully the role and importance of prayer, which lies at the very heart of the ecumenical journey". "Thanks to this spiritual ecumenism, through holiness of life, the conversion of the heart, and prayer", "for 100 years this prayer has truly accompanied the stages of a path that, especially after the Council, has confronted the theological and historical problems that have arisen over the centuries". The "friendly relations" established in this period have allowed "the improvement of mutual understanding" and "clearer perception of the problems that divide us". But above all, Christians have prayed together to obtain "the grace" of full unity.

"It is evident", the pope added, "that it is not through our strategies that we can obtain unity among Christians, but we can produce our own willingness, which opens the way to Christ: in conversion, we can find the gift of unity". Let us accept, therefore, Benedict XVI continued, "the invitation to pray without growing weary that the apostle Paul addressed to the first Christians of Thessalonica, a community that he himself had founded". Precisely because he had learned about "dissensions among [them]", he exhorted them to "be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good . . . Rejoice always . . . In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God".

Photo courtesy of CPP

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