|Communion of Christ's disciples a condition of
On Monday, 25 January , the Holy
Father celebrated Second Vespers for the Feast of the Conversion of St
Paul in the Basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls, with which he also
concluded the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Benedict XVI noted in
his Homily that this year also marks the 100th anniversary of the
Edinburgh Missionary Conference, an historic ecumenical event. The
following is a translation of his Homily, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Gathered together in this fraternal liturgical assembly,
on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, today we conclude the annual
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I greet all of you warmly, in
particular Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council
for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Archpriest of this Basilica,
Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, along with the Abbot and the Community
of monks whose guests we are. I also extend my cordial thoughts to the
Cardinals here present, to the Bishops and to all who represent the
Churches and ecclesial
Communities of this City who are here today.
Only a few months have passed since the conclusion of
the Year dedicated to St Paul, which gave us an opportunity to deepen
our awareness of his extraordinary work as a preacher of the Gospel and
also of our call to be missionaries of the Gospel, as the theme of the
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity reminds us
"You are witnesses of these things" (Lk 24:48).
Paul, although he retained an intense memory of his own
past as a persecutor of Christians, did not hesitate to call himself an
Apostle. For him, the basis of that title lay in his encounter with the
Risen One on the road to Damascus, which also became the beginning of
his 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.
Thus Paul, from being a persecutor of the Church, was in
his turn to become a victim of persecution for the sake of the Gospel to
which he witnessed: "Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews
the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods;
once I was stoned.... On frequent journeys, in danger from rivers,
danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles,
danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from
false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in
hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart
from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for
all the churches" (2 Cor 11:24-25, 26-28). Paul's witness reached its
culmination in his martyrdom when, not so far from here, he was to give
proof of his faith in Christ who conquers death.
The dynamic of Paul's experience is clearly expressed in
the pages of the Gospel that we have just heard. The disciples of
Emmaus, after having recognized the Risen Lord, return to Jerusalem and
find the Eleven gathered together with the others. The Risen
Christ appears to them, comforts them, overcomes their fear and doubts,
and eats with them. Thus he opens their hearts to the intelligence of
the Scriptures, recalling what had to happen, which would constitute the
nucleus of the Christian proclamation. Jesus affirms: "Thus it is
written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from
the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached
in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Lk 24:46-47).
These are the events to which the disciples of the first hour were to
bear witness, followed by believers in Christ of all times and places.
It is important, however, to emphasize that this witness, then just as
now, is born from the encounter with the Risen One, is fed by a constant
relationship with him and animated by a profound love for him. One can
only be his witness if one has had the experience of feeling Christ
alive and present
"See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself' (Lk 24:39)
of sitting at table with him, of listening as he sets one's heart
aflame! For this, Jesus promises his disciples and each of us a powerful
aid from on high, a new presence, that of the Holy Spirit, gift of the
Risen Christ, who guides us to the whole truth: "And behold, I send the
promise of my Father upon you" (Lk 24:49). The Eleven were to spend
their whole lives proclaiming the Good News of the death and
Resurrection of the Lord. Almost all of them were to seal their witness
with the blood of martyrdom, a fertile seed that has produced an
The choice of the theme of
this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
the invitation, that is, to a common witness of the Risen Christ in
accordance with the mandate he entrusted to his disciples
is linked to the memory of the 100th anniversary of the Edinburgh
Missionary Conference, in Scotland, widely considered a crucial event in
the birth of the modern ecumenical movement.
In the summer of 1910, in
the Scottish capital, over 1,000 missionaries from diverse branches of
Protestantism and Anglicanism, who were joined by one Orthodox guest,
met to reflect together on the necessity of achieving unity in order to
be credible in preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, it is
precisely this desire to proclaim Christ to others and to carry his
message of reconciliation throughout the world that makes one realize
the contradiction posed by division among Christians.
Indeed, how can
non-believers accept the Gospel proclamation if Christians
even if they all call on the same Christ
are divided among themselves?
Moreover, as we know, the same Teacher, at the end of the Last Supper,
had prayed to the Father for his disciples: "That they may all be one...
so that the world may believe" (Jn 17:21). The communion and unity of
Christ's disciples is therefore a particularly important condition to
enhance the credibility and efficacy of their witness.
Now a century after the
Edinburgh event, the intuition of those courageous precursors is still
very timely. In a world marked by religious indifference, and even by a
growing aversion to the Christian faith, it is necessary to discover a
new, intense method of evangelization, not only among the peoples who
have never known the Gospel but also among those where Christianity has
spread and is part of their history. Unfortunately, the issues that
separate us from each other are many, and we hope that they can be
resolved through prayer and dialogue. There is, however, a core of the
Christian message that we can all proclaim together: the fatherhood of
God, the victory of Christ over sin and death, with his Cross and
Resurrection, and faith in the transforming action of the Spirit.
While we journey toward
full communion, we are called to offer a common witness in the face of
the ever increasingly complex challenges of our time, such as
secularization and indifference, relativism and hedonism, the delicate
ethical issues concerning the beginning and end of life, the limits of
science and technology, the dialogue with other religious traditions.
There are also other areas in which we must from now on give a common
witness: the safeguard of Creation, the promotion of the common good and
of peace, the defense of the centrality of the human person, the
commitment to overcome the shortcomings of our time, such as hunger,
poverty, illiteracy, and the unequal distribution of goods.
The commitment to unity
among Christians is not the work of a few only, nor is it an incidental
undertaking for the life of the Church. 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.
May the Virgin Mary, Mother
of the Church, grant that her Son's desire may be fulfilled as soon as
possible: "That they may all be one... so that the world may believe" (Jn