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On Ecumenism in 2006

"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.

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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 ...

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