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Has Christ Been Divided?-Pope Francis’ Homily to end the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Has Christ been divided? (1 Cor 1:13). The urgent appeal which Saint Paul makes at the beginning of his First Letter to the Corinthians, and which has been proclaimed at this evening?s liturgy, was chosen by a group of our fellow Christians in Canada as the theme for our meditation during this year’s Week of Prayer.

The Apostle was grieved to learn that the Christians of Corinth had split into different factions. Some claimed: I belong to Paul; while others claimed: I belong to Apollos or I belong to Cephas, and others yet claimed: I belong to Christ (cf. v. 12). Paul could not even praise those who claimed to belong to Christ, since they were using the name of the one Saviour to set themselves apart from their other brothers and sisters within the community. In other words, the particular experience of each individual, or an attachment to certain significant persons in the community, had become a yardstick for judging the faith of others.

Amid this divisiveness, Paul appeals to the Christians of Corinth by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to be in agreement, so that divisions will not reign among them, but rather a perfect union of mind and purpose (cf. v. 10). The communion for which the Apostle pleads, however, cannot be the fruit of human strategies. Perfect union among brothers and sisters can only come from looking to the mind and heart of Christ Jesus (cf. Phil 2:5). This evening, as we gather here in prayer, may we realize that Christ, who cannot be divided, wants to draw us to himself, to the sentiments of his heart, to his complete and confident surrender into the hands of the Father, to his radical self-emptying for love of humanity. Christ alone can be the principle, the cause and the driving force behind our unity.

As we find ourselves in his presence, we realize all the more that we may not regard divisions in the Church as something natural, inevitable in any form of human association. Our divisions wound Christ’s body, they impair the witness which we are called to give to him before the world. The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, appealing to the text of Saint Paul which we have reflected on, significantly states: Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communities present themselves to people as the true inheritance of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but they differ in outlook and go their different ways, as if Christ were divided. And the Council continues: Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the sacred cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature (Unitatis Redintegratio, 1).

Christ, dear friends, cannot be divided! This conviction must sustain and encourage us to persevere with humility and trust on the way to the restoration of full visible unity among all believers in Christ. Tonight I think of the work of two great Popes: Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II. In the course of their own lives, both came to realize the urgency of the cause of unity and, once elected to the See of Peter, they guided the entire Catholic flock decisively on the paths of ecumenism. Pope John blazed new trails which earlier would have been almost unthinkable. Pope John Paul held up ecumenical dialogue as an ordinary and indispensable aspect of the life of each Particular Church. With them, I think too of Pope Paul VI, another great promoter of dialogue; in these very days we are commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of his historic embrace with the Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople.

The work of these, my predecessors, enabled ecumenical dialogue to become an essential dimension of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, so that today the Petrine ministry cannot be fully understood without this openness to dialogue with all believers in Christ. We can say also that the journey of ecumenism has allowed us to come to a deeper understanding of the ministry of the Successor of Peter, and we must be confident that it will continue to do so in the future. As we look with gratitude to the progress which the Lord has enabled us to make, and without ignoring the difficulties which ecumenical dialogue is presently experiencing, let us all pray that we may put on the mind of Christ and thus progress towards the unity which he wills.

In this climate of prayer for the gift of unity, I address a cordial and fraternal greeting to His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, and to His Grace David Moxon, the personal representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to all the representatives of the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities gathered here this evening.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask the Lord Jesus, who has made us living members of his body, to keep us deeply united to him, to help us overcome our conflicts, our divisions and our self-seeking, and to be united to one another by one force, by the power of love which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5).


(Image: CTV image grab/courtesy CNS: Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios, Pope Francis and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon pray before the tomb of St. Paul) 

Vatican Connections: Friday January 24, 2014

This week the Vatican was involved in two high level, international meetings: the meeting of the World Economic Forum and the Geneva II peace conference for Syria. The Vatican also caught international attention because of one guest coming to visit: French President Francois Hollande. While many speculated that perhaps Pope Francis would have words of advice for the French leader whose private life has been splashed across newspaper covers, nothing of that sort happened. Cindy Wooden at Catholic News Service has an overview of that meeting.

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When Pope Francis met French President Francois Hollande at the Vatican Jan. 24, their discussions about human dignity touched on several topics of tension between the French church and government, including the family and bioethics, the Vatican said.

The two spoke privately for 35 minutes with the assistance of an interpreter from the Vatican Secretariat of State, although before and after their private talk, the pope spoke to Hollande in French.

Media attention to the visit was high, particularly given recent revelations about Hollande’s affair with an actress and its impact on his official companion, to whom he is not married.

Security was tight around the Vatican for the visit after a rudimentary bomb exploded in Rome the night before near a French chapel, damaging several cars parked on the street and breaking the windows of some buildings.

Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, confirmed reports that an anonymous call to Rome police at 9:30 the morning of Hollande’s visit claimed that two bombs had been placed under the colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s Square.

As is normal when a head of state is about to visit, a thorough security check of the area already had been performed, Father Benedettini said, but the colonnade was checked again. It was a false alarm.

Before the visit, Hollande’s press office issued a statement saying he planned to discuss with Pope Francis their shared concerns about the Middle East, Syria and the Geneva II peace talks and the ongoing conflict in the Central African Republic.

“The meeting will reaffirm his commitment to regular and trusting relationships between the government and the Catholic Church,” the press statement said.

The Catholic Church and Hollande’s government have experienced tensions since the president’s election in 2012, particularly concerning Hollande’s support for the legalization of same-sex marriage. In May 2013, he signed a law allowing gays and lesbians to marry and to adopt children.

Current debates in France about legalizing surrogate motherhood and broadening access to artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization also have drawn the criticism of French bishops.

Writing in the Catholic daily La Croix Jan. 23, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon said the proposed laws, which would be designed to make it easier for single people and gay couples to have children, would change what it means to be someone’s child. “For the first time, a generation of children will be born who have intentionally been deprived of one of their parents.”

The provisions would place the desire of an adult to have a child above the rights of a child to know who his or her parents are, the cardinal said. Placing the rights of the strongest over the rights of the weakest already occurs with “the law on abortion, which began as an exception to respond to situations of serious difficulty, but has transformed quickly in recent decades.”

A Vatican statement about Hollande’s meeting with Pope Francis and later with Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said that “in the context of the defense and promotion of the dignity of the human person, several topics of current interest were discussed, including the family, bioethics, respect for religious communities and the safeguarding of places of worship.”

Poverty, development, migration and protecting the environment were also discussed, the Vatican said. And Hollande told reporters later that Pope Francis had said he was preparing a document on the environment.

As a member of his official delegation, Hollande brought with him Father Georges Vandenbeusch, a French missionary in Cameroon who had spent seven weeks as a hostage of the Nigerian Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram before being released on New Year’s Eve.

“I am very happy,” Pope Francis told Father Vandenbeusch before reaching out to give him a big hug.

For Pope Francis and Francois Hollande, the Francis connections were strong during the meeting Jan. 24, the feast of St. Francis de Sales. As a gift for the pope, Hollande brought a copy of a 1921 illustrated edition of a life of St. Francis of Assisi.

Unlike his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, Hollande’s visit was not scheduled to include a visit to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Rome diocesan cathedral with which the French nation has a special tie. Since early in the 17th century, the French kings and several of nation’s presidents have been welcomed as the “honorary canon” of the basilica.

Tough questions for Christian unity

Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring
Do we really care about Christian unity? That was the challenging question posed by of one of my colleagues this morning, as he perceived a lack of interest in ecumenical issues in the Catholic community. His observation prompted a few questions of my own. Why might some Catholics feel that ecumenism isn’t a priority? And, more to the point, why is ecumenism needed today?

Pope Benedict addressed this topic today at Vespers. The liturgy, which took place in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, marked the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul and the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Vatican Radio summarized the Holy Father’s homily:

“In today’s society,” he said, “it seems that the Christian message is less and less a presence in personal and community life, and this is a challenge for all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities.” He went on to speak of unity as itself a privileged means and even almost a prerequisite for a more efficacious evangelization, both of those who have never heard the Good News, and of those who have lost touch with its healing and saving power. Pope Benedict said, “The scandal of division that undermines missionary activity was the impulse under which began the ecumenical movement that we know today.”

The Pope makes a compelling argument for the link between ecumenism and the New Evangelization. Anyone who cares about the renewal of our culture needs to take seriously the practical and spiritual consequences of a divided body of believers.

We encourage you to pray for Christian unity as you watch our re-broadcast of today’s liturgy. Vespers will air on S+L Television tonight at 8:30 pm ET/5:30 pm PT and again at 12:30 am ET/9:30pm PT. To pray along, you can download the online booklet for the celebration, which contains the English translation of the Latin prayers.

Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Perspectives Daily – Thursday Nov. 25 – 2013 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Tonight on Perspectives: we speak with Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton and find out about the 2013 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Where Christian unity isn’t so ordinary

It’s easy to take ecumenism for granted in Canada, even during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Of course, the full expression of visible unity has not been achieved, and won’t likely occur within our lifetime. But we have grown so accustomed to respectful relations and cooperative efforts on social issues that our prayers for unity often lack a sense of urgency.

In other parts of the world, ecumenism must overcome rifts that have deepened over centuries. Such is the case in the Holy Land, where multiple denominations share custody of holy sites. On December 28, a dispute between Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox monks at the Church of the Nativity escalated into a brawl with broomsticks.

Fortunately, this isn’t the whole story. Since 2009, Christians in Jerusalem have been participating in prayer gatherings called the Extraordinary Prayer of all Churches for Reconciliation, Unity and Peace. The liturgies are endorsed by the Catholic Church, among other denominations. This Saturday, the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. Anthony will host the seventh such event. S+L will air the Extraordinary Prayer live in French this Saturday morning starting at 11:00am ET / 8:00am PT. The Franciscan Media Centre previews the event in the above video.

Perspectives Daily – Thursday, Jan. 19

Tonight on Perspectives: Pope Benedict tells US bishops that freedom of religion is the most ‘American’ of freedoms, and we continue to pray for Christian unity.

Celebrate Vespers with Pope Benedict on the Conversion of Saint Paul

We are all in need of conversion.

My colleague Pedro mentioned previously in his blog and the weekly edition of Perspectives on Christian Unity (and they talked about this on the show).

Hearing the phrase “we are all in need of conversion,” I recall the story of how Brother André begged those around him to pray for his conversion.  This request always baffled me.  Why would a saint pray for conversion?  I understand now it was his humility and self-awareness that motivated him to make the request.

We certainly are in need of conversion — of turning away from sin, and turning to God (after all, sin is turning our back to God).

On Tuesday, January 25th, we celebrate the feast of the conversion of St. Paul.  It’s a significant event to mark.  As Pope Benedict said on last year’s feast, it “became the beginning of [Paul’s] tireless missionary activity. In this he was to spend every ounce of his energy, proclaiming to all the peoples the Christ whom he had met personally.”

It also marks the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, or perhaps accurately the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, which began on Tuesday, January 18th.  (It’s interesting to note that Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches celebrate January 18th as the feast of the Confession of St. Peter, where Peter acknowledges Jesus at the Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20)).

To mark the feast, and the conclusion of the week of prayer, Pope Benedict XVI will one again preside over Vespers at St. Paul Outside the Walls.

Last year, the Holy Father pointed to an encounter with Christ, like St. Paul’s dramatic conversion, as a key to Christian unity:

Each one of us is called to make his or her contribution towards the completion of those steps that lead to full communion among the disciples of Christ, without ever forgetting that this unity is above all a gift from God to be constantly invoked. In fact, the force that supports both unity and the mission flows from the fruitful encounter with the Risen One, just as was the case for St Paul on the road to Damascus, and for the Eleven and the other disciples gathered at Jerusalem.

Vespers on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul will be broadcast live on Salt + Light with English translation, Tuesday, January 25th at 11:30 ET, with an encore presentation at 8:00pm ET / 9:00pm PT.

CNS photo/Paul Haring:  Pope Benedict XVI waves after celebrating vespers closing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome on January 25th, 2010.

Matthew 16:13-20

One human family

Have you ever considered Jesus a refugee?

Speaking in his Sunday Angelus address, Pope Benedict XVI reminded the faithful of the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt:

On the Feast of the Holy Family, immediately after Christmas, we recalled how even Jesus’ parents had to flee their land and take refuge in Egypt to save the life of their child. The Messiah, the Son of God, was also a refugee.

The Pontiff was speaking on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, a day that he says “”invites us to reflect on the experience of many men, women and families who leave their own country in search of better living conditions.” The Pope noted that sometimes this movement is voluntary, while at other times it is imposed by war or persectution.

Regarding involuntary movement, the Pope said something very poignant:

Sometimes, unfortunately, Christians feel obliged to take the anguished decision to leave their land, thus impoverishing the countries in which their ancestors lived.

What a way to put it: the region is “impoverished” in their absence. There is a great loss, and not in a material sense of someone having to start over, but in a cultural and spiritual sense. I could not help but think of Christians persecuted in the Holy Land, in Iraq, in Egypt, and those in the region who are leaving in large numbers, and asking, what will the region look like in 30 years?

The Holy Father also spoke about his message for the day, which addresses the forming of a single family “in which we recognise one another as brothers.” Keeping that in mind, the Pope reminded the faithful that though from different cultures and traditions, it is vital for Christians throughout the world to “form a single entity, as the Lord wishes.” Adding, “This is the aim of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” which begins on Tuesday.

This year, the theme is inspired by a passage in the Acts of the Apostles: ‘They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42-47)

The Pope added that Monday is also the Day of Jewish-Christian Dialogue, “which recalls the importance of the shared roots which unite Jews and Christians”.

CNS Photo/Paul Haring