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Pope Benedict's Homily at Close of Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

"Our Common Mission"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 3, 2006 (ZENIT) - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave at vespers on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Jan. 25, marking the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Pope gave it in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this day when we celebrate the Conversion of the Apostle Paul, we conclude the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity united in fraternal liturgical assembly. It is meaningful that the feast of the Conversion of the Apostle to the Gentiles coincides with the final day of this important Week, in which we are asking God with particular intensity for the precious gift of unity among all Christians, making ours the invocation that Jesus himself raised to the Father for his disciples: "that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21).

The desire for unity on the part of every Christian Community and every individual believer and the power to achieve it is a gift of the Holy Spirit and goes hand in hand with a more profound and radical fidelity to the Gospel (cf. encyclical "Ut Unum Sint," No. 15).

We realize that at the base of the commitment to ecumenism there is the conversion of heart, as the Second Vatican Council clearly affirms: "There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion. For it is from newness of attitudes of mind, from self-denial and unstinted love, that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way" (decree "Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 7).

"Deus caritas est" (1 John 4:8,16), God is love. The faith of the Church, in its entirety, is founded on this solid rock. In particular, the patient pursuit of full communion among all of Christ's disciples is based upon it: By fixing one's gaze on this truth, summit of divine revelation, it seems possible to overcome divisions and not to be discouraged, even though they continue to be gravely serious.

The Lord Jesus, who broke down the "dividing wall of hostility" (Ephesians 2:14) with the blood of his passion, will not fail to grant to those who faithfully invoke him the strength to heal every wound. But it is always necessary to start anew from this point: "Deus caritas est."

It is to the theme of love that I wanted to dedicate my first encyclical, which was published today; this happy coincidence with the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity invites us to consider, even more than our gathering together, the entire ecumenical journey in the light of God's love, of the Love that is God.

If, under the human profile, love manifests itself as an invincible force, what must we, who "know and believe the love God has for us" (1 John 4:16), say?

True love does not eliminate legitimate differences, but harmonizes them in a superior unity that is not ordered from the outside but gives form from within, so to speak, to the whole.

As the mystery of communion unites man and woman in that community of love and life known as matrimony, it too forms the Church into a community of love, uniting a multiform wealth of gifts and traditions. The Church of Rome is placed at the service of that unity of love which, according to a saying by St. Ignatius of Antioch, "presides in charity" ("Ad Romanos" 1:1).

Before you, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to renew today the entrustment to God of my particular Petrine ministry, invoking upon it the light and power of the Holy Spirit so that it will always encourage fraternal communion among all Christians.

The theme of love profoundly links the two short biblical readings of today's Liturgy of Vespers. In the first, divine charity is the strength that transforms the life of Saul of Tarsus and makes him the Apostle to the Gentiles. Writing to the Christians at Corinth, St. Paul confesses that God's grace worked the extraordinary event of conversion in him: "By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:10).

On the one hand, he feels the weight of having hindered the spread of Christ's message; but on the other, he lives in the joy of having met the Risen Lord and having been enlightened and transformed by his light. He keeps a constant memory of that life-changing event, an event so important for the entire Church that in the Acts of the Apostles reference is made to it three times (cf. Acts 9:3-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-18).

On the road to Damascus, Saul hears the disturbing question: "Why do you persecute me?" Falling to the ground and interiorly troubled, he asked: "Who are you, Lord?", receiving that answer which is the basis of his conversion: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Acts 9:4-5). ...

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