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Rome Notes: Ecumenism Inches Along; Help for AIDS Sufferers

Cardinal Kasper Assesses the State of Christian Unity

By Delia Gallagher

ROME, JAN. 29, 2004 (Zenit) - Cardinal Walter Kasper closed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on a hopeful yet sober note.

In an address Sunday in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Cardinal Kasper said that despite occasional ecumenical exhaustion, great progress has been made in the last 10 years, and "we have become friends."

"My Peace I Give to You" was the theme of this year's week of prayer.

"Faced with the urgency of this message of peace," the cardinal said at the ecumenical celebration, "our hearts are filled with pain and shame because the image that our world and even our churches give us is very different."

"Our churches are separated; their witness throughout history has been antagonistic instead of unified, in favor of peace," he said.

The cardinal continued: "We cannot pretend that everything is perfect. Sometimes we note hints of ecumenical weariness, signs of a new confessionalism, attempts to threaten the journey toward unity. Having filled the fissures that once divided us, we note now that new ones open in the area of ethics."

"Certainly, from a merely human point of view, there are reasons to worry and lose heart," Cardinal Kasper said. But Christians are people of hope and so should not give in to despair, he added.

"The Second Vatican Council underlined that the ecumenical movement is born of the impulse of the Spirit of God. When the Spirit of God begins something, he always carries it out to fulfillment," said Cardinal Kasper.

The Vatican has officially participated in the Week of Christian Prayer since 1966, two years after Vatican II's decree on ecumenism and Pope Paul VI's ecumenical prayer in Jerusalem with Patriarch Athenagoras I, "that they all may be one" (John 17:22).

Since 1974, local church groups have participated in preparing the ecumenical prayer guidelines for the Week of Prayer.

This year, the Christian communities of Aleppo, Syria, prepared the booklet of prayer to be used by churches and ecclesial communities throughout the world.

"This year," said Cardinal Kasper, "a special bond links us to Christians in the Middle East and in a particular way, Syria, where -- in Aleppo -- the text for the Week of Prayer was prepared."

Aleppo boasts 11 Christian communities who live side by side with a majority Muslim population and a sizable Jewish one. In antiquity, Aleppo was the city in which Abraham is said to have milked his cows. The Arabic for Aleppo is "halab," from "halib": milk.

The Week of Prayer grew out of a Pentecostal tradition in Scotland in 1740 and was encouraged by Pope Leo XIII in 1894, who suggested a Prayer Octave for Unity at Pentecost.

The current observance of the week of Jan. 18-25 was proposed in 1908 to cover the feasts of St. Peter and St. Paul, but depending on local tradition, the Week of Prayer can also be observed at Pentecost.

At the conclusion of last year's Week of Prayer, John Paul II said: "It is my great desire that the Church of Rome which Providence has entrusted with unique "presidency in charity" may increasingly become a model of fraternal ecumenical relations."

* * *

Sant'Egidio's Dream Project

Wine for Life is the name of an initiative of the Community of Sant'Egidio in Rome to raise money for the treatment of those infected with AIDS in African countries, particularly mothers and children.

The program involves more than 50 Italian wine producers who donate 50 euro cents to Sant'Egidio's DREAM project for every bottle of their wine sold in Europe and the United States.

Sant'Egidio has been active on many fronts in Africa, helping to broker the peace that ended civil war in Mozambique in 1992.

DREAM is a project, already active in Mozambique, which seeks not only to assist African men and women infected with AIDS but to prevent the transmission of the HIV virus to the unborn children of infected pregnant women.

According to Mario Marazziti, spokesman for Sant'Egidio, the prevention of vertical transmission has been one of the successes of the program, as well as continued care for infected mothers after their children's birth, to ensure that the children do not become orphans.

Thirty million people are infected with the HIV virus in Africa, including 1 million children.

The nurses and doctors who work for the DREAM project in Mozambique are all unpaid volunteers.

Wine for Life opened its second year with a gala dinner, attended by DREAM project volunteers and donors, featuring wines from 50 Italian vineyards and a four-course meal, each course prepared by a famous chef.

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