Pope Benedict: Progress in ecumenism with prayers for unity

Benedict XVI highlights the initiative of the week of prayer for Christian unity.  Concluding the week, January 25th, his first encyclical will be published, "Deus caritas est".   A special blessing for the 500 years of the Swiss Guard.  Concern for the situation in Ivory Coast.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The ecumenical movement " progresses across the world", even if  "it is often tested or encounters difficulties": the words of Benedict XVI to the thousands of pilgrims gathered in St Peter's square for the Angelus prayer. The pontiff recalled that across the Christian world, from January 18th to 25th, the week of prayer for Christian unity is celebrated.  Born at the beginning of the last century it has become a fixed appointment for all confessions.  Each year, said the Pope, Christians "pray and reflect" on the same biblical text.  

For 2006 the theme was taken from the gospel of Matthew ( "if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them"  - Mt 18,19-20). Commenting briefly the Holy Father said that these words imbue "trust" and "hope" , while "urging Christians together to ask God  for that full unity, which Christ Himself  emphasised in his prayer to the Lord during the Last Supper". Even obstacles and difficulties are useful: " they push us to exercise patience and perseverance and to grow in fraternal charity.  God is love, and only converting ourselves to Him and by accepting His word will we find ourselves all united in the mystic body of Christ".

To this ends Benedict XVI reminded all those present – already revealed at Wednesday's general audience – that January 25th his first encyclical will be published  entitled "Deus caritas est" (God is love). "I am happy  - continued Benedict XVI – that it twill coincide with the end of the week  of prayer for Christian unity: on that day I will be in the basilica of St Paul's outside the walls to preside over vespers, at which representatives from other Churches and ecclesial communities will take part."

After the Angelus blessing, while greeting pilgrims in the many languages, the Pope spoke of the 500 year jubilee of the foundation of the Pontifical Swiss Guard.  This morning in the Sistine Chapel, secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano celebrated mass, inaugurating celebrations. "Five hundred years ago – said the Pope -  on the 22 of January 1506, Pope Jiulius II welcomed and blessed the first contingent of Swiss Guards, who had come to Rome to protect and ensure the defence of his person and the Apostolic Palace, that is how the Pontifical Swiss Guard was born. In remembering this historic event, I am very glad to greet all those who make up this worthy corps, to whom in a sign of deep recognition and gratitude, I impart my heartfelt benediction". And, adding in French,  : "I also greet the ex Swiss Guards who are in Freiburg commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Guards, I thank them for their loyalty to the Church and to Peter's successor".

The Pope's last thought this Sunday was for Ivory Coast, where a siege of  A UN base by a group of youths, supporters of President Gbabo, has just come to an end.   Days of violent street clashes between rebels and pro president forces has once again put the 2003 UN monitored ceasefire at risk.

"Of the many worrying international situations – concluded the Pope – my thoughts today go to Africa in particolar to Ivory Coast, where tensions persist between the various social and political groups in the country.  I invite all involved to follow the path of constructive dialogue, with a view to reconciliation and peace.  I entrust this intention to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, beloved by the Ivorian people".