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Catholic World News News Feature

Pope underlines importance of Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 21, 2009

During his public audience on January 21, Pope Benedict XVI interrupted his series of Wednesday talks on the teachings of St. Paul to speak about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and to encourage all Christians to join in prayer for an end to divisions among Christ's followers. The Pope will lead an ecumenical Vespers service at the Roman basilica of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls on Sunday, January 25, to close the annual observance.

The Holy Father reminded the crowd in the Paul VI auditorium that the theme for this year's observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was drawn from Ezekiel: "That they may become one in your hand." He said that Christians must realize that unity among the faithful is "above all a gift of the Lord," for which believers must undertake "tireless and faithful prayer, escaping our own concerns and addressing ourselves to Jesus." All Christians should "respond generously" to this week's observance, the Pope continued, because full Christian unity "is linked to the very life and mission of the Church in the world."

The words of Ezekiel encourage us to "proceed patiently and perseveringly" with ecumenical work, recognizing the need for "humble and docile adherence to the command of the Lord," the Pope observed. That humble approach is essential to success in ecumenical dialogue, he said, and Christians will inevitably be drawn closer together insofar as they join in the genuine search to know God's will.

During the Week of Prayer, the Pope continued, he was reflecting on some of the significant ecumenical events of the past year, and giving thanks to God for the advances that have been made. He mentioned his three meetings with with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, including the Orthodox leader's participation in the Synod of Bishops last October. He also spoke of the death of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksei II, and said that he was praying for the Russian prelates who will soon gather to elect a new Patriarch of Moscow.

The Holy Father returned to his focus on St. Paul as he neared the conclusion of his remarks, remarking that during this Pauline Year the faithful should imitate the example of the Apostle to the Gentiles, who "spent his life entirely for the one Lord and for the unity of his Mystical Body."