Only Christ can heal divisions among Christians today, says Pope

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI


Divisions among Christians exist today as they did in St. Paul's time and there continues to be a single source of healing – repenting and turning to Christ – said the Pope on Sunday.

As he did the week prior at the general audience, Pope Benedict XVI again took up the theme of Christian unity during his Jan. 23 address before the Angelus prayer.

The subject is pertinent as the annual, global celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity continues. Observed from Jan. 18-25, this year's Christian unity week focuses on the Acts of the Apostles and the very first Christian community in Jerusalem.

The Geneva, Switzerland-based World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Vatican Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity partnered with the churches of Jerusalem to come up with the theme and materials to be used during the week.

In his address, Pope Benedict called the collaboration with churches in Jerusalem "meaningful." The service of Christians in the Holy Land and the Middle East amid their trials, he said, is "even more precious" considering their testimony which has marked by the sacrifice of human lives.

In this context, the "cues for reflection" offered by the Christian communities there are received with "joyfully," while they offer the world an opportunity join together with them as a sign of communion, he said.

The Pope went on to say that Christians must base their lives on the four elements that make them a "sign and instrument of the intimate union with God and of unity among men in the world."

These four are listening to the God's Word transmitted through the strong Tradition of the Church, fraternal communion, the Eucharist and prayer.

According to the materials for study and prayer offered by the WCC and the Vatican's council for Christian unity, they are "the pillars of the life of the church, and of its unity."

Pope Benedict explained that only by "remaining firmly united to Christ, can the Church fulfill her mission effectively, despite the limits and the faults of her members, in spite of division."

He pointed out that Christian division was already evident in the first century when St. Paul saw discord in the Christian community of the Corinthians. The second reading on Sunday is a reminder to this, he said.

Paul wrote to them, "I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose."

Knowing of the community's problems, he asked them rhetorically, "Is Christ divided?"

In doing so, said Pope Benedict, Paul "asserts that every division in the Church is an offense to Christ; and, at the same time, that it is always in Him, the only Chief and Lord, that we can unite ourselves again, because of the inexhaustible force of his grace."

This is where the call, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," from Sunday's Gospel comes in, said the Pope.

"The serious commitment of conversion to Christ is the way that leads the Church ... to full visible unity," he said. He pointed to the increasing number of ecumenical encounters as a sign of this.

There are also ecumenical delegations present in Rome at the moment as well as theological dialogue set to pick up on Jan. 23 between the Catholic and Ancient Oriental Churches, he added.

Before praying the Angelus, he prayed that Mary, "Mother of the Church, always accompany us on this path."

The Pope will conclude the observation of the Week of Prayer with vespers at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-walls on the feast of St. Paul's conversion on Jan. 25.

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