On Christian Unity

‘The Divisions Among us Christians Are a Scandal’

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Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address during his weekly General Audience held in St. Peter’s Square today.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Last Saturday, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began, which will end next Saturday, feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle. This spiritual and most precious initiative has involved Christian communities for more than one hundred years. It is a time dedicated to prayer for the unity of all the baptized, in keeping with the will of Christ: “that they may all be one” (John 17:21).

Every year, an ecumenical group from a region of the world suggests a theme, under the guidance of the Ecumenical Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and prepares the prayers for the Week of Prayer. This year these prayers come from the Churches and ecclesial Communities of Canada, and they refer to the question Saint Paul addressed to the Christians of Corinth: “Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:13).

Christ was certainly not divided. However, we must admit sincerely, with sorrow, that our communities continue to live divisions that are a scandal. The divisions among us Christians are a scandal. There is no other word: a scandal. “Each one of you – the Apostle wrote – says: ‘I belong to Paul,’ ‘I instead belong to Apollo,’ ‘And I belong to Cephas,’ ‘And I belong to Christ’” (1:12). Even those who professed Christ as their head were not applauded by Paul, because they used the name of Christ to separate themselves from the others within the Christian community. But Christ’s name creates communion and unity, not division! He has come to make communion among us, not to divide us. Baptism and the Cross are central elements of Christian discipleship which we have in common. Divisions, instead, weaken credibility and the effectiveness of our commitment to evangelization and risk emptying the Cross of its power (cf. 1:17).

Paul reproached the Corinthians for their disputes, but he also thanked God “because of the grace which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and knowledge” (1:4-5). These words are not a simple formality, but a sign that he sees first of all  — and of this he rejoices sincerely — the gifts made by God to the community. This attitude of the Apostle is an encouragement for us and for every Christian community to acknowledge with joy the gifts of God present in other communities. Despite the suffering of the divisions, which unfortunately still remain, let us receive Paul’s words as an invitation to rejoice sincerely for the graces granted by God to other Christians: let us recognize it and rejoice.

It is good to acknowledge the grace with which God blesses us and, even more so, to find in other Christians something of which we are in need, something that we can receive as a gift from our brothers and our sisters. The Canadian group that prepared the prayers for this Week of Prayer has not invited the communities to think about what they can give their Christian neighbors, but has exhorted them to meet to understand what all can receive from time to time from the others. This requires something more. It requires much prayer, humility, reflection and constant conversion. Let us go forward on this path, praying for the unity of Christians, so that this scandal may cease and be no longer with us.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters: in these days we celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year’s theme is a question taken from the First Letter to the Corinthians: “Has Christ Been Divided?”. We know that Christ has not been divided; yet we must sincerely recognize that our communities continue to experience divisions which are a source of scandal and weaken our witness to the Gospel. In reproaching the Corinthians for their divisions, Paul reminds them to rejoice in the great spiritual gifts which they have received. His words encourage us to rejoice in the gifts God has given to other Christians, gifts which we can receive from them for our enrichment. To be able to do this calls for humility, discernment and constant conversion. As we reflect on Paul’s teaching during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, may we be confirmed, together with all Christ’s followers, in our pursuit of holiness and fidelity to the Lord’s will.

Pope Francis (in Italian):

During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I am particularly pleased to greet the students of the ecumenical Graduate School of Bossey. May your studies help to advance ecumenical dialogue and understanding. I also greet the pilgrimage of British Army Chaplains and the delegation from the Jewish Federation of Chicago. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims present at today’s Audience I cordially invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

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Opening today at Montreux, in Switzerland, is an International Conference to support peace in Syria, which will be followed by negotiations that will be held in Geneva beginning this January 24. I pray to the Lord that he touch the hearts of all, seeking only the greater good of the Syrian people, so sorely tried, that no effort be spared to reach urgently the cessation of violence and the end of the conflict, which has already caused too many sufferings. I wish for the dear Syrian nation a decisive path of reconciliation, harmony and reconstruction with the participation of all the citizens, where each one will be able to find in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother to receive and embrace.

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I give a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking faithful. In particular, I greet the participants in the meeting of Regional Coordinators of the Apostleship of the Sea, with Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, exhorting them to be the voice of workers who live far from their dear ones and face situations of danger and difficulty; the members of the Local Police of Macherio and Sovico with Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi and the Rotary Club of Lanciano with Bishop Emidio Cipollone. In addition, I greet the members of the Love and Liberty Community, the children of the nursery schools of of Latina and the numerous pensioners of the Coldiretti Confederation. I encourage all to be faithful to Christ, so that the joy of the Gospel will shine in the Church

A special thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Next Saturday we will celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Dear young people, may the figure of Paul be for all of you the model of missionary discipleship. Dear sick, offer your sufferings for the cause of the unity of Christ’s Church. And you, dear newlyweds, be inspired by the example of the Apostle of the Gentiles, acknowledging the primacy of God and of His love in your family life.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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