VATICAN CITY, JAN. 19, 2011 ( The work of promoting Christian unity is above all a work of prayer, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope said this today during his weekly general audience address, which he dedicated to a reflection on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that is under way through Jan. 25.

The Holy Father noted that prayer must at the center "of the path to build unity," and that "unity cannot be a simple product of human action."

"It is above all a gift of God," he added, "which entails growth in communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

"The path to visible unity among all Christians resides in prayer," the Pontiff continued, "because fundamentally we do not 'build' unity, but it is 'built' by God, it comes from him, from the Trinitarian Mystery, from the unity of the Father with the Son in the dialogue of love which is the Holy Spirit and our ecumenical effort should be open to divine action, it must be a daily invocation of God's help. The Church is his and not ours."

Reflecting on the theme chosen for 2011 -- "They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42) -- Benedict XVI said the "four characteristics define the early Christian community of Jerusalem as a place of unity and love," and that they "must always constitute the life of the Church."

"First of all we have listening to the teaching of the Apostles, that is, listening to the testimony that they give of the mission, life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus," he reflected. "Every effort made for the building of unity between Christians passes through the deepening of fidelity to the 'depositum fidei,' which the Apostles transmit to us. Firmness in the faith is the basis of our communion, it is the basis of Christian unity."

The Pope said that fraternal communion is "the most tangible expression, above all for the outside world, of the unity among the disciples of the Lord."

"The history of the ecumenical movement is marked by difficulties and uncertainties," he said, "but it is also a history of fraternity, of cooperation and of human and spiritual communion, which has changed in a significant way the relations between believers in the Lord Jesus."

Charity and justice

THe Holy Father added that "communion with God creates communion among ourselves and is translated necessarily into the concrete communion of which the Acts of the Apostles speak, that is, full communion. No one should be hungry in the Christian community, no one should be poor: It is a fundamental obligation. Communion with God, made flesh in fraternal communion, is translated, concretely, in social effort, in Christian charity, in justice."

Regarding the third characteristic -- the breaking of the bread -- Benedict XVI said that "communion in Christ's sacrifice is the culmination of our union with God and therefore also represents the plenitude of the unity of the disciples of Christ, full communion."

The Pope lamented that "we are still far from the realization of that unity for which Christ prayed. This painful experience, which confers a penitential dimension to our prayer, must become the motive for a still more generous effort, on the part of all, in order that, eliminating all the obstacles for full communion, the day will come in which it will be possible to gather around the table of the Lord, to break the Eucharistic bread together and all drink from the same chalice."

"Prayer has always been the constant attitude of the disciples of Christ, what supports their daily lives in obedience to the will of God," the Holy Father stated, referring the fourth characteristic of the early Christians.

"Christian prayer, participation in Jesus' prayer is par excellence a filial experience, as attested to us in the words of the Our Father, prayer of the family -- the 'we' of the children of God, of the brothers and sisters -- that speaks to a common Father," he said. "To be in an attitude of prayer, hence, implies being open to fraternity.

"Only in the 'we' can we say the Our Father. Let us open ourselves to fraternity which stems from being children of the one heavenly Father and hence disposed to forgiveness and reconciliation."

"Dear brothers and sisters," Benedict XVI concluded, "as disciples of the Lord we have a common responsibility to the world, we must carry out a common service: as the first Christian community of Jerusalem, beginning from what we already share, we must give a strong witness, founded spiritually and supported by reason, of the only God who has revealed Himself and who speaks to us in Christ, to be bearers of a message that directs and illumines the path of the man of our time, often deprived of clear and valid points of reference.

"Hence, it is important to grow each day in mutual love, committing ourselves to overcome those barriers that still exist among Christians; to feel that a true interior unity exists among all those who follow the Lord; to collaborate as much as possible, working together on the questions that are still open; and above all, to be conscious that in this itinerary the Lord must assist us, he still has to help us much because, without him, alone, without 'abiding in him,' we can do nothing."

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