Here is the translation of Pope Benedict XVI’s Homily during the ecumenical celebration of Vespers of the Solemnity of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. The occasion marked the end of the XLVI Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on the theme: “What Does the Lord Require of Us” (Micah 6:6-8)
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
It is always a joy and a special grace to come together, around the tomb of the Apostle Paul, to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I greet with affection the Cardinals present, first of all Cardinal Harvey, Archpriest of this Basilica, and with him the Abbot and the community of monks who are hosting us. I greet Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and all the collaborators of this dicastery. I express my cordial and fraternal greetings to His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, to the Rev. Canon Richardson, personal representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and all the representatives of the different Churches and ecclesial communities, gathered here this evening. In addition, I am particularly pleased to greet the members of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, to whom I wish a fruitful work for the plenary session that is taking place these days in Rome, as well as students of the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, on a visit to Rome to deepen their knowledge of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox young people who study there. Lastly, I greet all those present gathered to pray for the unity of all the disciples of Christ.
This celebration is part of the Year of Faith, which began on 11 October, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Communion in the same faith is the basis for ecumenism. Unity is given by God as inseparable from faith; St. Paul expresses this effectively: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all”(Eph. 4:4-6). 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 Second Vatican Council reminds Christians that “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”(Decr. Unitatis redintegratio, 7). Doctrinal issues that still divide us must not be overlooked or minimized. They should rather be faced with courage, in a spirit of brotherhood and mutual respect. Dialogue, 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.
In today’s society it seems that the Christian message affects personal and community life less and less, and this represents a challenge for all the Churches and ecclesial communities. 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 scandal of division that undermined missionary activity was the impulse that started the ecumenical movement that we know today. Full and visible communion among Christians is to be understood as a fundamental characteristic of an even clearer witness. While we are on the path towards full unity, it is necessary to pursue concrete cooperation among the disciples of Christ for the sake of passing on the faith to the contemporary world. Today there is a great need for reconciliation, dialogue and mutual understanding, not in a moralistic perspective, but in the name of Christian authenticity for a more incisive presence in the reality of our time.
True faith in God is inseparable from personal holiness, as well as from the pursuit of justice. In the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which ends today, the theme offered for our meditation was, “What Does the Lord Requires of Us,” inspired by the words of the prophet Micah, which we have heard (cf. 6:6-8). It was proposed by the Student Christian Movement in India, in collaboration with the All India Catholic University Federation and the National Council of Churches in India, who also prepared the aids for reflection and prayer. To those who have collaborated, I want to express my deep gratitude and, with great affection, I assure you of my prayers for all the Christians of India, who sometimes are called to bear witness to their faith in difficult conditions. “Walking humbly with God” (cf. Micah 6:8) above all means walking in radical faith, like Abraham, trusting in God, or rather placing in Him all our hopes and aspirations, but it also means walking past the barriers, past hatred, racism and social and religious discrimination that divide and harm society as a whole. As St. Paul says, Christians must first provide a shining example in their search for reconciliation and communion in Christ, that overcomes every kind of division. In the Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle of the Gentiles says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”(3:27-28).
Our search for unity in truth and in love, then, must never lose sight of the perception that Christian unity is the work and gift of the Holy Spirit, and goes far beyond our own efforts. Therefore, spiritual ecumenism, especially prayer, is the heart of ecumenical commitment (cf. Decr. Unitatis redintegratio, 8). However, ecumenism will not bear lasting fruit unless it is accompanied by concrete gestures of conversion that move consciences and foster the healing of memories and relationships. As stated in the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council, “there is no true ecumenism without interior conversion” (no. 7). Authentic conversion, as suggested by the prophet Micah and of which the Apostle Paul is a significant example, will bring us closer to God, to the center of our lives, in such a way as to draw us also closer to each other. This is a key element of our ecumenical commitment. The renewal of the inner life of our heart and our mind, which is reflected in everyday life, is crucial in any process of reconciliation and dialogue, making of ecumenism a mutual commitment to understanding, respect and love, “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).
Dear brothers and sisters, let us invoke the Virgin Mary with confidence, the incomparable model of evangelization, so that the Church, “a sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of unity among all men” (Const. Lumen Gentium, 1), may announce with all frankness, even in our time, Christ the Savior. Amen.[Translation by Peter Waymel]