01/25/2004, 00.00

"Unity among Christians is my constant concern"

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – At the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan.18-25), just before the Angelus, the pope recalled how much ecumenicalism and unity among Christians has been one of the "urgent priorities" of his pontificate.

Quoting from the apostolic letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, he said that unity is still a goal for the third millennium, even if slowed down by "idleness" and "uncertainty". This afternoon at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls an ecumenical prayer celebration will take place. For the first time the pope will not be able to attend the event in person.

At the end of the Marian prayer the pope reminded those in attendance that also being celebrated today is World Leprosy Day. "My thoughts go out to all those who are still suffering form Hansen's disease. While I invite everyone to pray for them and for all those being treated for the illness, I encourage the international community's efforts to defeat this disease," the pope said. Throughout the world there are around 10 million sufferers of Hansen's disease. The Catholic Church, a pioneer in caring for and taking in lepers, manages about 700 leprosy hospitals and clinics across the world.       

Below we report the pope's words prior to the Angelus (translation by AsiaNews):

"Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Today, the feast of the conversion of Paul the Apostle, marks the end of the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity", during which Christians have prayed together on every corner of the earth for their full communion according to our Lord's will. "Ut unum sint - may all be united as one" (John 17,21). Christ's ardent appeal made from last supper continues to remind Christian communities that unity is a gift to accept and develop ever more deeply.  

The unity of Christians has been a constant concern of my pontificate and continues to be an urgent priority in my ministry. In the apostolic letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, issued at the end of the Jubilee year, my desire was to remind everyone that Christ's call is an "imperative which obliges us, the strength which sustains us, and a healthy reprimand for our idleness and narrow-mindedness. (n. 48)"

Therefore, may our commitment to pray for unity never diminish and may we constantly strive for it! Obstacles, difficulties and even misunderstandings and failures cannot and must not discourage us, since the "faith of obtaining, even in our time, the full and visible communion among all Christians" is founded not our human abilities, but rather on our common Lord's plea (cf. ibid.).       

We faithfully call upon Mary, Mother of Christ and of the Church, to support and accompany us along our ecumenical journey.
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