Christian unity will not appear suddenly as a miracle but will be given to the followers of Christ step by step as they walk together and work together, Pope Francis has said.
“To journey together is already to be making unity,” the Pope said during an ecumenical prayer service marking the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Pope Francis presided over the service at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls with Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and other Christian representatives present and reading some of the prayers.
The service began with Pope Francis, Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy and the Most Rev David Moxon, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative in Rome, bowing in prayer before the tomb of St Paul on the feast of his conversion.
“We have prayed at the tomb of Paul and said to one another, ‘Let’s pray that he will help us on this path, this path of unity and love,’” the Pope said later in his homily.
“Unity will not come about as a miracle at the very end,” he said. “Rather unity comes about in journeying.”
“If we do not walk together, if we do not pray for one another, if we do not collaborate in the many ways that we can in this world for the people of God,” the Pope said, “then unity will not come about.”
Dialogue and collaboration are essential, he said, but unity will not be the result of human effort, “but rather of the Holy Spirit, who sees our good will”.
Pope Francis, celebrating his first Christian unity week as Pope, said that “two great popes, Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II”, felt the urgency of Jesus’s prayer that his disciples be one. They dedicated so much of their energy and teaching to ecumenism that the search for Christian unity has become “an essential dimension” of papal ministry, he said.
“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,” he said.
In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis wrote: “It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelisation.”
He noted how Blessed John Paul, in his 1995 encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint (That All May be One), “asked for help in finding ‘a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation’.” Pope Francis said: “We have made little progress in this regard.”
Pope Francis told the thousands of people who filled the Basilica of St Paul for the evening prayer service that it is unacceptable to consider “divisions in the Church as something natural, inevitable”, because “divisions wound Christ’s body [and] they impair the witness which we are called to give to him before the world.”
“We have all been damaged by these divisions,” the Pope said, and all share an obligation “to persevere with humility and trust” in the search for unity.
As Pope Francis was leaving the basilica, his liturgical master of ceremonies, Mgr Guido Marini, pointed out to him the basilica’s newest mosaic: a portrait of Pope Francis added in December to the series of mosaic portraits of all the popes since St Peter.