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At Start of Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

"The Presence of Jesus ... Guarantees Efficacy"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 19, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at today's general audience, held in Paul VI Hall, in which the Pope opened the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

* * *

"Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:19). This solemn assurance of Jesus to his disciples sustains our prayer. Today begins the by-now traditional Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an important appointment to reflect on the tragedy of the division of the Christian community and to pray with Jesus himself "that they may all be one so that the world may believe" (John 17:21). We also do so here, in harmony with a great multitude in the world. The prayer "for the unity of all" involves, in different ways and times, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, united by faith in Jesus Christ, only Lord and Savior.

The prayer for unity forms part of that central nucleus that the Second Vatican Council calls "the soul of the whole ecumenical movement" ("Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 8), a nucleus that includes precisely public and private prayers, conversion of heart, and holiness of life. This view presents us the core of the ecumenical problem, which is obedience to the Gospel to do the will of God with his necessary and effective help. The Council explained it explicitly to the faithful declaring: "For the closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love" (ibid., No. 7).

The elements that, despite the lasting division, continue to unite Christians sustain the possibility to raise a common prayer to God. This communion in Christ sustains the whole ecumenical movement and indicates the objective of the search for the unity of all Christians in the Church of God. This distinguishes the ecumenical movement from any other initiative of dialogue or of relations with other religions and ideologies.

On this, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council's decree on ecumenism was also precise: "This movement toward unity is called 'ecumenical.' Those belong to it who invoke the Triune God and confess Jesus as Lord and Savior" (ibid., No. 1). The common prayers that take place throughout the world particularly in this period, or around Pentecost, express moreover the will of a common effort for the re-establishment of the full communion of all Christians. "Such prayers in common are certainly an effective means of obtaining the grace of unity" (ibid., No. 8).

With this affirmation, the Second Vatican Council interprets definitively what Jesus says to his disciples, whom he assures that if two gather on earth to ask anything of the Father who is in heaven, he will grant it "because" where two or three gather in his name, he is in their midst. After the resurrection, he assures them he will be with them "always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). The presence of Jesus in the community of disciples and in our prayer guarantees efficacy. To the point that he promises that "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:18).

But we do not limit ourselves to implore. We can also give thanks to the Lord for the new situation that, with effort, has been created in the ecumenical relations among Christians with the fraternity that has been found again through the strong bonds of solidarity established, of the growth of communion and of the convergences carried out -- surely in an unequal manner -- between the different dialogues. There are many reasons to thank God. And if there is still much to be done and to hope for, let us not forget that God has given us much on the path to unity. For this reason, we are grateful to him for these gifts. The future is before us.

The Holy Father John Paul II, of happy memory, who did so much and suffered for the ecumenical question, taught us opportunely that "An appreciation of how much God has already given is the condition which disposes us to receive those gifts still indispensable for bringing to completion the ecumenical work of unity" ("Ut Unum Sint," No. 41). Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us continue to pray so as to be aware that the holy cause of the re-establishment of Christian unity exceeds our poor human efforts and that unity, finally, is a gift of God.

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, a time when all the Lord's followers are asked to reflect on the tragedy of their divisions and to pray with the Lord "that all might be one ... that the world may believe" (cf. John 17:21).

Prayer for Christian unity is the "heart of the ecumenical movement" ("Unitatis Redintegratio," No. 8), and is closely linked to conversion of heart and the pursuit of holiness in obedience to God's will. As believers draw closer to the Triune God, they will draw closer to one another and work more readily for the restoration of full communion.

The common prayer of Christians is a powerful means of imploring the grace of unity, since our Lord himself has promised that "if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Matthew 18:19-20).

With gratitude to God for the significant ecumenical progress already made, let us look with hope to the future, and continue our prayers for the unity of all Christians, recognizing that ultimately it is God's gracious gift.

I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's audience, and in particular to the groups from Sweden, South Korea and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.


The Vatican , VA
Pope Benedict XVI - Bishop of Rome, 661 869-1000



Pope, Benedict, Prayer, Unity, Christian

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