Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The process for the unity of Christians has made "great progress" over the past century, "positive steps" have also been made over the past year and major appointments are already set for the near future. But full unity is a "gift of God", for which we must pray. This is the meaning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebrated this week and to which Benedict XVI dedicated his reflections delivered to the eight thousand people who attended the general audience.
"On the one hand we must keep in mind how much real progress has been achieved in the brotherhood of all Christians over the last 50 years, and at the same time realise that the work of ecumenism is not a linear process. Old questions loose some of their weight while new difficulties arise from our current context. Therefore we must all be open to a process of purification in which the Lord enables us to be united".
The pope said this year's theme, "You are witnesses of these things", from the Gospel of Luke, takes us back to the fundamental issue that gave birth to the Edinburgh conference of 13 to 24 June 1910 and the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement. On that occasion it was said that witnessing Jesus was the common duty of all Christians to spread the Gospel throughout the world, but that it would be difficult for the world to believe in the Savoir when those who proclaim Him "are divided, and often in conflict" .
Since then, "the theme of the visible unity of Christians involves the conscience and stimulates the commitment of all those who believe in Christ," which requires engagement in dialogue and prayer, “a more authentic and profound guidance than the authentic ecumenical search, because unity is first and foremost a gift of God”. "Therefore, in addition to our effort to develop fraternal relations and dialogue to overcome our differences we need prayer”.
"The relationship between unity and mission is one of the basic principles of modern ecumenism " conscious that "division not only contradicts the will expressed by Jesus," but it damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature. "
The theme chosen this year for the week, the Pope explained, must be read "in the context of Chapter 24 of Luke's Gospel," which says that women were the first to find the empty tomb of Jesus, who then appeared to the disciples in Emmaus, to Peter and the eleven. "Two questions arise for us: the first what is 'everything'?. "The context tells us that above all it is the Cross and the Resurrection. In this way we begin to understand all the Scriptures. " "Everything," then is "the mystery of the Son who became man, died and rose again." But "in knowing Christ, we know the face of God. Christ is above all the revelation of the face of God”, who is no longer distant, but "shows Himself in Christ. The distant God becomes near-at-hand".
The second question is "how can we be witnesses. Only by knowing Jesus and knowing God. But knowing also involves an intellectual dimension. But rather than intellectual it is existential, openness of oneself to the presence and power of Christ" and so there is "openness to all others". "Only in really encountering Him in our lives can we become witnesses of faith"
"Since the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church has entered into fraternal relations with all churches and ecclesial communities, and organized with most of them the theological dialogues that have led to convergences and consensus on several points, thus deepening the bonds of communion".
The celebration of the Week "leads us to consider other important aspects. First, the great progress made over the past century. " Ecumenism "has grown so significantly that it becomes important in the life of the Churches" and "not only favours relations between Churches and ecclesial communities, but promotes theological research" and involves the life of the Churches and ecclesial communities with issues that involve the church life such as the common recognition of baptism and solutions for mixed marriages. He also recalled the ten years since the Joint Declaration on Justification with the Lutherans, the return of groups of Anglicans to full communion with Rome, the "positive steps" of the Joint Working Commission with the Orthodox that addresses "the crucial issue of the role of bishop of Rome in the community in the first millennium, when there was full communion between East and West", a research that "will extend to the second millennium". "In the wake of such a spirit ,contacts have expanded to Pentecostal, evangelical and charismatic movements for a better mutual understanding, although they also see serious problems in this area".
The common commitment to continue on the path of ecumenism, the Pope concluded, "is a positive sign which shows how intense the desire for unity is despite the difficulties." But we need to pray because only God can give unity" because "a self-made Church would be human, while we want a Church made by God".