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"Moments of Great Significance in This Slow Ascent to Unity"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 25, 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, which ends Thursday.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity closes tomorrow, which this year had as its theme the words of Mark's Gospel "He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (Mark 7:37). We could also repeat these words, which express the wonder of the people who witnessed the healing of the man who could not hear or speak, on seeing the wonderful flowering of the commitment for the re-establishment of Christian unity. On reviewing the journey of the last forty years, we marvel at how the Lord has awakened us from the lethargy of self-sufficiency and indifference; how he makes us ever more able to "listen to one another" and not just "hear ourselves"; how he has loosened our tongue so that the prayer we raise to him has greater force of conviction for the world.

Yes, it is true, the Lord has granted me many graces and, in the light of the Spirit, has illuminated many testimonies. They have demonstrated that everything can be attained by praying, when we are able to obey with trust and humility to the divine commandment of love and to adhere to Christ's longing for the unity of all his disciples.

"The attainment of union is the concern of the whole Church, faithful and shepherds alike," affirms the Second Vatican Council. "This concern extends to everyone, according to his talent, whether it be exercised in his daily Christian life or in his theological and historical search" ("Unitatis Redintegratio," 5).

The first common duty is prayer. By praying, and praying together, Christians acquire a greater awareness of their condition of brothers, even if they are still divided; and by praying we learn better to listen to the Lord, as we can only find the path to unity by listening to the Lord and following his voice.

Ecumenism is certainly a slow process, at times perhaps even discouraging when one gives in to the temptation to "hear" and not to "listen," to say half-truths, instead of having the courage to proclaim them. It is not easy to emerge from "comfortable deafness," as if the unaltered Gospel did not have the capacity to re-flower, reaffirming itself as providential leaven of conversion and spiritual renewal for each one of us.

Ecumenism, as I was saying, is a slow process; it is a gradual journey of ascent, as are all journeys of repentance. However, it is a journey that, after the initial difficulties and in fact in them, presents also great moments of joy, refreshing pauses, and allows one to breathe fully the very pure air of full communion.

The experience of these decades, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, shows that the search for Christian unity is realized at different levels and in innumerable circumstances: in parishes, in hospitals, in contacts between people, in collaboration between local communities in all parts of the world, and especially in areas where to carry out a gesture of good will in favor of a brother calls for great effort and also for a purification of the memory.

In this context of hope, dotted with concrete steps toward the full communion of Christians, are also framed the meetings and events that constantly mark the rhythm of my ministry, the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, shepherd of the universal Church. I would now like to review the most significant events that took place in 2006, which were motives of joy and gratitude to the Lord.

The year began with the official visit of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The international Catholic-Reformed Commission presented a document, for the consideration of the respective authorities, which concluded with a process of dialogue initiated in 1970, which has lasted, therefore, 36 years. This document is entitled "The Church as Community of Common Testimony of the Kingdom of God."

On Jan. 25, 2006, hence, a year ago, on the solemn closing of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the delegates for Europe's ecumenism, convoked jointly by the Council of European Bishops' Conferences and the Conference of European Churches participated in the first stage of approach to the third European Ecumenical Assembly, which will be held on Orthodox soil, in Sibiu, in September of this year.

On the occasion of the Wednesday audiences, I have been able to receive the delegations of the World Baptist Alliance and of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the United States, which is faithful to its periodic visits to Rome. I had the opportunity, moreover, to meet with the leaders of the Orthodox Church of Georgia, which I follow with affection, continuing that bond of friendship that united His Holiness Ilia II with my venerated predecessor, the Servant of God Pope John Paul II.

Continuing with this chronology of last year's ecumenical meetings, is the summit of religious leaders, held in Moscow in July of 2006. Alexy II, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, requested in a special message the adherence of the Holy See. Useful afterward was the visit of Metropolitan Kirill of the Patriarchate of Moscow, who expressed the intention to reach a more explicit normalization of our bilateral relations.

Also appreciated was the visit of the priests and students of the College of the Diakonia Apostolica of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece. I wish to recall also that in its general assembly in Porto Alegre, the World Council of Churches dedicated ample space to Catholic participation. On that occasion I sent a particular message.

I also wanted to send a message to the general meeting of the Methodist World Conference in Seoul. I recall with pleasure, moreover, the cordial visit of the secretaries of Christian World Communions, an organization of mutual information and contact between different confessions.

Continuing with the chronology of the year 2006, we come to the official visit last November of the archbishop of Canterbury and primate of the Anglican Communion. I shared with him and his entourage a significant moment of prayer in the Redemptoris Mater chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

With reference to the unforgettable apostolic journey to Turkey and to the meeting with His Holiness Bartholomew I, I am pleased to recall the numerous gestures that were more eloquent than words. I take advantage of the opportunity to greet once more His Holiness Bartholomew I and to thank him for the letter he wrote me on my return to Rome.

I assure him of my prayer and my commitment to act so that the consequences will ensue of that embrace of peace, which we gave one another during the Divine Liturgy in the church of St. George in the Phanar.

The year ended with the official visit to Rome of the archbishop of Athens and All Greece, His Beatitude Christodoulos, with whom we exchanged demanding gifts: the icons of the "Panaghia," the All Holy, and that of Sts. Peter and Paul embracing.

Are these not perhaps instances of lofty spiritual values, moments of joy, of great significance in this slow ascent to unity of which I have spoken? These moments illuminate the commitment, often silent, but intense, that unites us in the quest for unity. They encourage us to make every possible effort to continue on this slow but important ascent.

We commend ourselves to the constant intercession of the Mother of God and of our protector saints so that they will support and help us not to fail in our good intentions, so that they will encourage us to intensify all efforts, praying and working with confidence, convinced that the Holy Spirit will do the rest. He will give us complete unity when and how it pleases him. And, strengthened by this confidence, let us go forward on the path of faith, of hope and of charity. The Lord is guiding us.

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This Week of Prayer for Christian Unity takes as its theme these words from St. Mark's Gospel: "He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak" (cf. Mark 7:31-37). As we recall the wonder felt by those who witnessed Jesus' healing of a man who could not hear or speak, we too marvel at the remarkable growth that has taken place in ecumenical relations during the last forty years.

The Lord has helped us to overcome our deafness, so that we can listen profoundly to one another, and he has restored our power of speech so that we can pray together and proclaim, the truth with conviction.

In thanking God for the many ecumenical initiatives we have witnessed at every level of the Church's life, I want to recall some particular events in which I have been personally involved during the past year.

I was pleased to receive visits from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, as well as the World Baptist Alliance and representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In November I was able to spend time in prayer with the archbishop of Canterbury.

And in Turkey I had the opportunity of visiting the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, whom I greet once more, recalling our fraternal encounter with great joy.

Through the intercession of Our Lady and all the saints, may our work for Christian unity continue to progress, so that the Holy Spirit may make us truly one.

I greet with affection all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today's audience, especially the groups from Denmark and the United States of America. I pray that your visit to Rome will deepen your faith and hope in Christ, who alone can bring healing to our world. Upon all of you and upon your loved ones, I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.

© Copyright 2007 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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