Rome (AsiaNews) - The search for Christian unity must involve "all of our energy and efforts", and the followers of Jesus have joined in this for some time, but this is too great a work for men to achieve on their own; it must be a "gift of God". This is the conviction that lead to the appeal to all Christians to pray, and which this year, which recalls the two thousandth anniversary of the Apostle Paul's birth, is made concrete in the choice of the phrase "pray without ceasing" as the theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which this year is in its hundredth edition.
The words of Saint Paul were the centre of the reflection conducted this afternoon by Benedict XVI, in the Roman basilica of Saint Paul's Outside the Walls, where he went for the traditional celebration of second Vespers, the concluding event for the Week. The hundredth anniversary of the celebration was made especially significant this year by the customary participation, at the basilica, of representatives from other Christian confessions, beginning with the secretary general of the World Council of Churches, Samuel Kobia. The presence of Reverend Kobia, as the pope recalled, also served to celebrate the 40 year span in which "the Christian communities of the entire world have received, for this week, meditations and prayers prepared jointly by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity".
Today's feast of the conversion of Saint Paul, in the words of Benedict XVI, should prompt reflection on the fact that the apostle himself, convinced that he had been converted by divine intervention and "always motivated by the profound conviction that all of his strength came from the grace of God working within him", exhorted Christians to pray constantly. "The words of the Apostle on the relationship between human effort and divine grace resound with a meaning all their own. At the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we are all the more aware of how the work to restore unity, although it requires all of our energy and efforts, is still infinitely beyond our capacity. Unity with God and with our brothers and sisters is a gift that comes from Above". "It is not in our power to decide when or how this unity will be fully realised. Only God can do this!"
As the pope recalled in his address for the general audience last Wednesday, Paul's appeal to the Christians of Thessalonica, "pray without ceasing", gives "strength and consistency" to the exhortations contained in this same epistle, to "admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good for each other and for all. Rejoice always . . . In all circumstances give thanks" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22).
Prayer concerns the ecumenical movement in a special way. "Our desire for unity must not be limited to sporadic occasions, but must become an integral part of our entire prayer life. Men and women formed in the Word of God and in prayer have been the authors of reconciliation and unity in every phase of history. It is the journey of prayer that has cleared the way for the ecumenical movement, as we know it today". In this regard, the pope recalled that "one hundred years ago, Fr Paul Wattson, who at the time was an Episcopal minister, came up with the idea for an octave of prayer for unity, which was celebrated for the first time in Graymoor (New York) from January 18 to 25, 1908". "During the 1930's, the octave of prayer went through important adaptations, above all through the initiative of Abbé Paul Couturier of Lyons, himself a great promoter of spiritual ecumenism. His appeal to 'pray for the unity of the Church as Christ wishes and according to the means that He wishes' allowed Christians from all traditions to unite in prayer for unity. Let us thank God for the great movement of prayer which, for one hundred years, has accompanied and sustained believers in Christ in their search for unity. The ship of ecumenism", he concluded, "could never have left the port if it had not been moved by this great tide of prayer and blown by the wind of the Holy Spirit".