Christian unity requires learning from each other, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Divided Christians need to recognize
the gifts God has given to other communities and learn from them “without
waiting for the others to learn first,” Pope Francis said.

Leading an ecumenical evening prayer service Jan. 25 for the
close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis said Christians
must overcome the “temptations of self-absorption that prevent us from
perceiving how the Holy Spirit is at work outside our familiar
surroundings,” including in the lives of other Christian communities.

The Vatican’s Sistine Chapel Choir and the Anglican
Westminster Abbey Choir sang at the service at Rome’s Basilica of St.
Paul Outside the Walls.

Pope Francis walked to the tomb of St. Paul, under the basilica’s main altar, and prayed there
with Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy, the representative of the
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and with Anglican
Archbishop David Moxon, the representative of the archbishop of Canterbury.

At the end of the service, the two took turns with Pope Francis in
reading segments of the solemn blessing and in blessing the congregation
with the sign of the cross.

In his homily, Pope Francis said St. Paul, who was
persecuting the Christians, went from being a person who trusted “his own
ability to observe the law strictly” to conversion and “cleaving with his whole
being to the gracious and unmerited love of God: to Jesus Christ, crucified and

Like St. Paul, he said, “each person, forgiven and
loved, is called in turn to proclaim the Gospel of reconciliation in word and
deed, to live and bear witness to a reconciled life.”

“Authentic reconciliation between Christians will only
be achieved when we can acknowledge each other’s gifts and learn from one
another, with humility and docility, without waiting for the others to learn
first,” he said.

In the year marking the fifth centenary of the Protestant
Reformation, Pope Francis said Christians must acknowledge the past but not
allow themselves to be fixated on it and on the injuries suffered at the hands
of the other.

Christians must allow God, “who makes all things new,
to unveil before our eyes a new future, open to the hope that does not
disappoint, a future in which divisions can be overcome and believers, renewed
in love, will be fully and visibly one,” he said.

Praying for Christian unity, the pope said, is sharing in
Jesus’ own prayer for the unity of his disciples.

“With patient and trusting hope that the Father will grant
all Christians the gift of full visible communion,” he said, “let us
press forward in our journey of reconciliation and dialogue, encouraged by the
heroic witness of our many brothers and sisters, past and present, who were one
in suffering for the name of Jesus.”

Echoing a call he made during major ecumenical meetings in
2016 with Lutheran and with Anglican leaders, Pope Francis prayed that
Christians would “take advantage of every occasion that providence offers
us to pray together, to proclaim together and together to love and serve,
especially those who are the most poor and neglected in our midst.”

Speaking at the end of the service, Cardinal Kurt Koch,
president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said, “We
must commit ourselves to promoting reconciliation among Christians, and we must
let ourselves be compelled by the love of Christ.

“In fact,” he said, “love is the motor of any
ecumenical effort. True love does not erase the legitimate differences among
Christian churches, but leads them together, reconciled, to a deeper

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