A shared commitment to proclaiming the Gospel enables all Christians "to overcome proselytism and competition in all their forms." These were the words of Pope Francis to religious leaders gathered in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the Walls in Rome yesterday evening.
The celebration of Vespers concluded the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity", an international Christian ecumenical observance held every year.
Representatives of Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed and Evangelical Churches as well as Cardinals, priests and lay people from Rome were present during the prayer service.
The week-long observance had as its theme: "Jesus said to her: 'Give me to drink'", which is taken from St. John's account of Christ's encounter with the Samaritan woman. Reflecting on the Gospel, the Holy Father noted that despite the thought that Samaritans were considered heretics, schismatics and separatists, Jesus has no problem approaching her.
"His attitude tells us that encounter with those who are different from ourselves can make us grow," the Pope said.
In asking her for water, the Pope continued, Jesus' thirst is not only physical but also comes from a desire to dialogue with the woman and call her to conversion. However, he also noted that Jesus did not impose Himself but was respectful to her and gradually reveals Himself.
"His example encourages us to seek a serene encounter with others," he said. "To understand one another, and to grow in charity and truth, we need to pause, to accept and listen to one another. In this way, we already begin to experience unity. Unity is done on the path; it is never still, unity is done walking."
The Need for One Another
Pope Francis continued his reflection on Christ's encounter, focusing on their conversation about where God is truly worshipped. The Holy Father said that he "does not side with the mountain or the temple, but speaks of true worship "in spirit and truth."
"So many past controversies between Christians can be overcome when we put aside all polemical or apologetic approaches, and seek instead to grasp more fully what unites us, namely, our call to share in the mystery of the Father’s love revealed to us by the Son through the Holy Spirit," he said.
"Christian unity will not be the fruit of subtle theoretical discussions in which each party tries to convince the other of the soundness of their opinions. The Son of Man will come and will find us still arguing. We need to realize that, to plumb the depths of the mystery of God, we need one another, we need to encounter one another and to challenge one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who harmonizes diversities and overcomes conflicts; to reconcile our differences."
The 78 year old Pontiff went on to say that through this conversation, the Samaritan woman comes to the realization that the One asking for water can satisfy her thirst for truth. Upon discovering this truth, she becomes "a missionary", announcing to the townspeople the meaning and joy to her life restored by Christ.
In today's world he continued, there are men and women who are thirsty for that same truth and are asking Christians "to give them something to drink."
"It is a request," he said to the religious representatives, "which we cannot evade."
"In the call to be evangelizers, all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities discover a privileged setting for closer cooperation. For this to be effective, we need to stop being self-enclosed, exclusive, and bent on imposing a uniformity based on merely human calculations."
"Our shared commitment to proclaiming the Gospel enables us to overcome proselytism and competition in all their forms," he continued. "All of us are at the service of the one Gospel!"
An Ecumenism of Blood
The Pope also remembered Christians suffering around the world. These martyrs, the Holy Father said, are persecuted and murdered without any distinction of their faith by their persecutors.
"They are Christians and thus persecuted," he noted. "This is, my brothers and sisters, the ecumenism of blood."
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis greeted the representatives of Christian churches and ecclesial communities present at the celebration of Vespers. He urged them to continue the pursuit of Christian unity, which is not only a "sole prerogative of individuals or religious communities particularly concerned with this issue."
"A shared knowledge of the different traditions of consecrated life, and a fruitful exchange of experiences, can prove beneficial for the vitality of all forms of religious life in the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities," he concluded.
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On ZENIT's website:
For the full text of the Holy Father's homily, go to: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/pope-francis-homily-at-celebration-of-vespers-at-the-basilica-of-st-paul