“Christians are called to hold together the memory of what God has accomplished in them,” said Pope Francis to mark the end of the 51st Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. “We thus wish to pray together, uniting our voices even more. Even when divergences separate us, we recognise that we belong to the people of the redeemed, to the same family of brothers and sisters loved by the one Father."
Rome (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis cited the ecumenism of the blood today, a particularly significant day on the journey towards Christian unity, at the end of the celebration of the Second Vespers of the Solemnity of the Conversion of Saint Paul Apostle, which marks the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christians unity, whose theme this year was ‘Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power’ (Exodus, 15-6).
The pope took inspiration from today’s reading, Exodus. In it Moses sings the praises of God on the shores of the Red Sea. "Many ancient Fathers,” Francis said, “understood this liberating passage as an image of Baptism. It is our sins that have been drowned by God in the living waters of Baptism. Much more than Egypt, sin threatened to make us slaves forever, but the power of divine love overwhelmed it.”
“Saint Augustine (Sermon 223E) interprets the Red Sea, where Israel saw God’s salvation, as an anticipatory sign of the blood of Christ crucified, source of salvation. All of us Christians have passed through the waters of Baptism, and the grace of the Sacrament has destroyed our enemies: sin and death. After leaving the waters, we reached the freedom of the children; we emerged as a people, as a community of saved brothers and sisters, as 'fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God' (Eph 2:19). We share the fundamental experience: God’s grace, his powerful mercy in saving us. And precisely because God has carried out this victory in us, together we can sing his praises."
Over the past century, the various Christian confessions have "finally understood" that we are "together on the shores of the Red Sea. In Baptism we have been saved and the grateful song of praise, which other brothers and sisters sing, belongs to us, because it is also ours. When we say we recognise the baptism of Christians of other traditions, we confess that they too have received the Lord's forgiveness and his grace is working in them. And we welcome their worship as an authentic expression of praise for what God does. We thus wish to pray together, uniting our voices even more. Even when divergences separate us, we recognise that we belong to the people of the redeemed, to the same family of brothers and sisters loved by the one Father."
As it happened to Israel after liberation, "even today's Christians encounter many difficulties along the way, surrounded by so many spiritual deserts, which cause hope and joy to dry up. There are also serious dangers on the way, which put life at risk: how many fellow Christians today suffer persecution in the name of Jesus! When their blood is shed, even if they belong to a different confession, together they become witnesses of faith, martyrs, united in the bond of baptismal grace. Together with the friends of other religious traditions, Christians today face challenges that demean human dignity: they flee situations of conflict and misery, they are victims of trafficking human and other modern forms of slavery, they suffer hardship and hunger in a world that is increasingly rich in means but poor in love, where inequalities continue to grow. But like the Israelites of the Exodus, Christians are called together to hold the memory of what God has accomplished in them. By reviving this memory, we can support one another and, armed only with Jesus and the sweet power of his Gospel, face every challenge with courage and hope."
At the end, the pope thanked Metropolitan Gennadios, representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; Bishop Bernard Ntahoturi, personal representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Rome; and the ecumenical delegation of Finland, whom he had received this morning, for their presence.
During the meeting, Francis again spoke about the importance of the "common celebration" of the 500 years of the Reformation. "The ecumenical dimension in our prayer and meetings, in which there were no traces of past disputes or conflicts, was essential for the common commemoration of the Reformation all over the world. Our commemoration was celebrated in a very different spirit, because we understood the event of the Reformation as an invitation to face together the loss of credibility of Christianity, an invitation to give renewed strength to the common confession of the One and Triune God. The year that has just ended reminded us of the time when unity among Christians was not yet broken. This is why Lutherans and Catholics were able to celebrate the commemoration of 2017 only one way: in ecumenical communion."