Pope Benedict XVI presided over an ecumenical service of Vespers at the Basilica of St. Peter Outside the Walls in Rome on Friday. The celebration marked the conclusion of the XLVI Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which focused on the theme “What Does the Lord Require From Us.” The occasion also marked the Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul.
Among those present were Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Metropolitan Archbishop Gennadios, representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, and Rev. Canon Richardson, the personal representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Holy Father emphasized the importance of the communion in the same faith as a basis for ecumenism.
“The baptismal profession of faith in God, the Father and Creator, who revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ, pouring out the Spirit who gives life and holiness, already unites Christians. Without faith – which is primarily a gift of God, but also man’s response – the whole ecumenical movement would be reduced to a form of “contract” to enter into out of a common interest,” the Pope said.
Pope Benedict XVI, while acknowledging that doctrinal issues that divide the different faiths should not be overlooked or minimized, stated that such issues should be an impediment for dialogue. “They should rather be faced with courage, in a spirit of brotherhood and mutual respect,” the Pope said.
“Dialogue,” the Holy Father continued, “when it reflects the priority of faith, can open to the action of God with the firm conviction that we cannot build unity alone: it is the Holy Spirit who guides us toward full communion, who allows us to grasp the spiritual wealth present in the different Churches and ecclesial communities.”
The Supreme Pontiff also focused on the need for unity among churches and ecclesial communities in today’s society, where “the Christian message affects personal and community life less and less.”
“Unity is in itself a privileged instrument, almost a prerequisite to announcing the faith in an ever more credible way to those who do not yet know the Saviour, or who, having received the proclamation of the Gospel, have almost forgotten this precious gift,” the Pope said. The Holy Father stated that there is a great need for reconciliation and dialogue, “not in a moralistic perspective, but in the name of Christian authenticity for a more incisive presence in the reality of our time.”
Concluding his homily, Pope Benedict XVI invoked the Blessed Virgin Mary, as a model of Evangelization, “so that the Church, ‘a sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of unity among all men’ may announce with all frankness, even in our time, Christ the Savior.”