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"We Must Not Be Discouraged"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 19, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at Wednesday's general audience, dedicated to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held in most countries Jan. 18-25.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Tomorrow begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which I shall close personally in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls next Jan. 25, with the celebration of vespers, to which representatives of the other Churches and ecclesial communities of Rome have also been invited.

The days from Jan. 18 to 25, and in other parts of the world, the week of Pentecost, are an intense time of commitment and prayer on the part of all Christians, who can make use of the supports elaborated jointly by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and by the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.

I have observed how profound the desire for unity is during meetings I have held with several representatives of the Churches and ecclesial communities in the course of these years, and in a moving way in the recent visit to ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Istanbul, Turkey. Next Wednesday I will again address these and other experiences which have opened my heart to hope.

Of course the path to unity continues to be long and difficult; however, we must not be discouraged and must continue go forward on it, relying first of all on the sure support of the One who, before ascending to heaven, promised his followers: "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). Unity is a gift of God and fruit of the Spirit's action. Therefore, it is important to pray. The more we draw near to Christ, being converted to his love, the closer we also come to one another.

In some countries, Italy being among them, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is preceded by the Day of Judeo-Christian Reflection, which is observed in fact today, Jan. 17. For almost two decades, the Italian episcopal conference has dedicated this day to Judaism in order to promote knowledge and appreciation and enhance the relationship of mutual friendship between the Christian and Jewish communities, a relationship that has developed positively in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and the historic visit of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, to the major synagogue of Rome.

To grow and be fruitful, the Judeo-Christian friendship must also be based on prayer. Therefore, I invite everyone to address today a persistent prayer to the Lord that Jews and Christians may respect and appreciate one another and collaborate together for justice and peace in the world.

The biblical theme proposed this year for common reflection and prayer during this week is: "He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mark 7:37). They are the words of Mark's Gospel and refer to Jesus' curing of the deaf-mute. In this brief passage, the evangelist recounts that the Lord, after putting his fingers in the ears and touching with saliva the tongue of the deaf-mute, worked the miracle saying: "Ephphatha," which means "Be opened!"

On recovering his hearing and the gift of speech, that man aroused the admiration of the others by recounting what happened to him. Every Christian, spiritually deaf and mute because of original sin, receives in baptism the Lord's gift who puts his fingers on the face and, in this way, through the gift of baptism, is capable of hearing the word of God and of proclaiming it to brothers. Moreover, from that moment on, he has the task to mature in knowledge and love of Christ in order to be able to proclaim and witness the Gospel with efficacy.

This theme, on illustrating two aspects of every Christian community's mission -- the proclamation of the Gospel and the testimony of charity -- also underlines the importance of translating Christ's message into concrete initiatives of solidarity. This favors the path of unity, as it can be said that every relief, even if small, which Christians offer together to their neighbor's suffering, also contributes to making more visible their communion and fidelity to the Lord's commandment.

The prayer for Christian unity, however, cannot be limited to a week of the year. The joint invocation to the Lord, to bring about, when and how he knows, the full unity of all his disciples, must be extended to each day of the year.

Moreover, the harmony of objectives in the "diakonia" to relieve man's sufferings, the search for the truth of Christ's message, conversion and penance, are imperative stages through which every Christian worthy of the name must unite with his brother to implore the gift of unity and communion.

I exhort you, therefore, to spend these days in a climate of prayerful listening to the Spirit of God so that significant steps will be taken on the path of full and perfect communion among all Christ's disciples.

May the Virgin Mary, whom we invoke as Mother of the Church and help of all Christians, obtain support for us on our path to Christ.

[At the end of the audience, Benedict XVI greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Tomorrow begins the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Since unity which our Lord wills for all his disciples is ultimately God's gift, I encourage everyone to join fervently in imploring this great grace. The closer we draw to Christ and the more we are converted by his truth and love, the closer we will draw to one another. In many countries the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is also preceded by a Day of Reflection between Christians and Jews, in order to build greater respect, friendship and cooperation between our two communities.

The theme of this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity -- "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" -- is inspired by St. Mark's account of Jesus' healing a man who was deaf and mute (cf. Mark 7:37). Through Baptism, all Christians have been freed from spiritual deafness, enabled to hear God's word and charged to bear witness to it in word and deed, by the exercise of Christian charity. May our common prayers and our efforts to live fully the grace of our baptism hasten the day when all Christ's followers will live in perfect communion.

Today, I am pleased to offer a cordial welcome to the Canons of the Chapter of Leeds Cathedral. I also extend a warm greeting to the members of the Cantinovum Choir from Finland. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today's audience, especially those from Ireland, England, Australia and the United States of America, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.

© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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