Benedict XVI Homilies 31127
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, we are beginning a new year and Christian hope takes us by the hand; let us begin it by invoking divine Blessings upon it and imploring, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, the gift of peace: for our families, for our cities, for the whole world. With this hope, I greet all of you present here, starting with the distinguished Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See who have gathered at this celebration on the occasion of the World Day of Peace. I greet Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, my Secretary of State, and Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino and all members of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. I am particularly grateful to them for their commitment to spread the Message for the World Day of Peace whose theme this year is: "The human family, a community of peace".
Peace. In the First Reading from the Book of Numbers we heard the invocation: "The Lord... give you peace" (Nb 6,26); may the Lord grant peace to each one of you, to your families and to the whole world. We all aspire to live in peace but true peace, the peace proclaimed by the Angels on Christmas night, is not merely a human triumph or the fruit of political agreements; it is first and foremost a divine gift to be ceaselessly implored, and at the same time a commitment to be carried forward patiently, always remaining docile to the Lord's commands. This year, in my Message for today's World Day of Peace, I wanted to highlight the close relationship that exists between the family and building peace in the world. The natural family, founded on the marriage of a man and a woman, is "a "cradle of life and love'" and "the first and indispensable teacher of peace". For this very reason the family is "the primary "agency' of peace", and "the denial or even the restriction of the rights of the family, by obscuring the truth about man, threatens the very foundations of peace" (cf. nn. 1-5). Since humanity is a "great family", if it wants to live in peace it cannot fail to draw inspiration from those values on which the family community is based and stands. The providential coincidence of various recurrences spur us this year to make an even greater effort to achieve peace in the world. Sixty years ago, in 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations published the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights"; 40 years ago my venerable Predecessor Paul VI celebrated the first World Day of Peace; this year, in addition, we will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Holy See's adoption of the "Charter of the Rights of the Family". "In the light of these significant anniversaries" - I am repeating here what I wrote precisely at the end of the Message - "I invite every man and woman to have a more lively sense of belonging to the one human family, and to strive to make human coexistence increasingly reflect this conviction, which is essential for the establishment of true and lasting peace" [n. 15].
Our thoughts now turn spontaneously to Our Lady, whom we invoke today as the Mother of God. It was Pope Paul VI who moved to 1 January the Feast of the Divine Motherhood of Mary, which was formerly celebrated on 11 October. Indeed, even before the liturgical reform that followed the Second Vatican Council, the memorial of the circumcision of Jesus on the eighth day after his birth - as a sign of submission to the law, his official insertion in the Chosen People - used to be celebrated on the first day of the year and the Feast of the Name of Jesus was celebrated the following Sunday. We perceive a few traces of these celebrations in the Gospel passage that has just been proclaimed, in which St Luke says that eight days after his birth the Child was circumcised and was given the name "Jesus", "the name given by the Angel before he was conceived in [his Mother's]... womb" (Lc 2,21). Today's feast, therefore, as well as being a particularly significant Marian feast, also preserves a strongly Christological content because, we might say, before the Mother, it concerns the Son, Jesus, true God and true Man.
The Apostle Paul refers to the mystery of the divine motherhood of Mary, the Theotokos, in his Letter to the Galatians. "When the time had fully come", he writes, "God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law" (Ga 4,4). We find the mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Word and the Divine Motherhood of Mary summed up in a few words: the Virgin's great privilege is precisely to be Mother of the Son who is God. The most logical and proper place for this Marian feast is therefore eight days after Christmas. Indeed, in the night of Bethlehem, when "she gave birth to her first-born son" (Lc 2,7), the prophesies concerning the Messiah were fulfilled. "The virgin shall be with child and bear a son", Isaiah had foretold (Is 7,14); "Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son", the Angel Gabriel said to Mary (Lc 1,31); and again, an Angel of the Lord, the Evangelist Matthew recounts, appeared to Joseph in a dream to reassure him and said: "Do not fear to take Mary for your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son" (Mt 1,20-21).
The title "Mother of God", together with the title "Blessed Virgin", is the oldest on which all the other titles with which Our Lady was venerated are based, and it continues to be invoked from generation to generation in the East and in the West. A multitude of hymns and a wealth of prayers of the Christian tradition refer to the mystery of her divine motherhood, such as, for example, a Marian antiphon of the Christmas season, Alma Redemptoris mater, with which we pray in these words: "Tu quae genuisti, natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem, Virgo prius ac posterius - You, in the wonder of all creation, have brought forth your Creator, Mother ever virgin". Dear brothers and sisters, let us today contemplate Mary, ever-virgin Mother of the Only-Begotten Son of the Father; let us learn from her to welcome the Child who was born for us in Bethlehem. If we recognize in the Child born of her the Eternal Son of God and accept him as our one Saviour, we can be called and we really are children of God: sons in the Son. The Apostle writes: "God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Ga 4,4).
The Evangelist Luke repeats several times that Our Lady meditated silently on these extraordinary events in which God had involved her. We also heard this in the short Gospel passage that the Liturgy presents to us today. "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Lc 2,19).
The Greek verb used, sumbállousa, literally means "piecing together" and makes us think of a great mystery to be discovered little by little. Although the Child lying in a manger looks like all children in the world, at the same time he is totally different: he is the Son of God, he is God, true God and true man. This mystery - the Incarnation of the Word and the divine Motherhood of Mary - is great and certainly far from easy to understand with the human mind alone.
Yet, by learning from Mary, we can understand with our hearts what our eyes and minds do not manage to perceive or contain on their own. Indeed, this is such a great gift that only through faith are we granted to accept it, while not entirely understanding it. And it is precisely on this journey of faith that Mary comes to meet us as our support and guide. She is mother because she brought forth Jesus in the flesh; she is mother because she adhered totally to the Father's will. St Augustine wrote: "The divine motherhood would have been of no value to her had Christ not borne her in his heart, with a destiny more fortunate than the moment when she conceived him in the flesh" (De Sancta Virginitate, 3, 3). And in her heart Mary continued to treasure, to "piece together" the subsequent events of which she was to be a witness and protagonist, even to the death on the Cross and the Resurrection of her Son Jesus.
Dear brothers and sisters, it is only by pondering in the heart, in other words, by piecing together and finding unity in all we experience, that, following Mary, we can penetrate the mystery of a God who was made man out of love and who calls us to follow him on the path of love; a love to be expressed daily by generous service to the brethren. May the new year which we are confidently beginning today be a time in which to advance in that knowledge of the heart, which is the wisdom of saints. Let us pray, as we heard in the First Reading, that the Lord may "make his face to shine" upon us, "and be gracious" to us (cf. Nb 6,24-27) and bless us. We may be certain of it: if we never tire of seeking his Face, if we never give in to the temptation of discouragement and doubt, if also among the many difficulties we encounter we always remain anchored to him, we will experience the power of his love and his mercy. May the fragile Child who today the Virgin shows to the world make us peacemakers, witnesses of him, the Prince of Peace. Amen!60608
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, we are celebrating Christ, Light of the world, and his manifestation to the peoples. On Christmas Day the message of the liturgy rings out in these words: "Hodie descendit lux magna super terram - Today, a great light descends upon earth" (Roman Missal). In Bethlehem this "great light" appeared to a handful of people, a tiny "remnant of Israel": the Virgin Mary, her husband Joseph and a few shepherds. It was a humble light, as is the style of the true God; a little flame kindled in the night: a fragile newborn infant wailing in the silence of the world... but this hidden, unknown birth was accompanied by the hymns of praise of the heavenly hosts singing of glory and peace (cf. Lc 2,13-14).
So it was that although the appearance of this light on earth was modest, it was powerfully projected in the heavens: the birth of the King of the Jews had been announced by the rising of a star, visible from afar. This was attested to by some "wise men" who had come to Jerusalem from the East shortly after Jesus' birth, in the time of King Herod (cf. Mt 2,1-2). Once again heaven and earth, the cosmos and history, call to each other and respond. The ancient prophecies find confirmation in the language of the stars. "A star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel" (Nb 24,17), announced Balaam, the pagan seer, when he was summoned to curse the People of Israel, whom he instead blessed because, as God had revealed to him, "they are blessed" (Nb 22,12). In his Commentary on Matthew's Gospel, Cromatius of Aquileia establishes a connection between Balaam and the Magi: "He prophesied that Christ would come; they saw him with the eyes of faith". And he adds an important observation: "The star was seen by everyone but not everyone understood its meaning. Likewise, our Lord and Saviour was born for everyone, but not everyone has welcomed him" (4: 1-2). Here, the meaning of the symbol of light applied to Christ's birth appears: it expresses God's special blessing on Abraham's descendents, destined to be extended to all the peoples of the earth.
The Gospel event which we commemorate on the Epiphany - the Magi's visit to the Child Jesus in Bethlehem - thus refers us back to the origins of the history of God's People, that is, to Abraham's call. We are in chapter 12 of the Book of Genesis. The first 11 chapters are like great frescos that answer some of humanity's fundamental questions: what is the origin of the universe and of the human race? Where does evil come from? Why are there different languages and civilizations?
Among the narratives with which the Bible begins, there appears a first "covenant" which God made with Noah after the flood. It was a universal covenant concerning the whole of humanity: the new pact with Noah's family is at the same time a pact with "all flesh". Then, before Abraham's call, there is another great fresco which is very important for understanding the meaning of Epiphany: that of the Tower of Babel. The sacred text says that in the beginning, "the whole earth had one language and few words" (Gn 11,1). Then men said: "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth" (Gn 11,4). The consequence of this sin of pride, similar to that of Adam and Eve, was the confusion of languages and the dispersion of humanity over all the earth (cf. Gn 11,7-8). This means "Babel" and was a sort of curse, similar to being banished from the earthly paradise.
At this point, with Abraham's call, the story of the blessing begins: it is the beginning of God's great plan to make humanity one family through the covenant with a new people, chosen by him to be a blessing among all the peoples (cf. Gn 12,1-3). This divine plan is still being implemented; it culminated in the mystery of Christ. It was then that the "last times" began, in the sense that the plan was fully revealed and brought about in Christ but needs to be accepted by human history, which always remains a history of fidelity on God's part, but unfortunately also of infidelity on the part of us human beings. The Church herself, the depository of the blessing, is holy and made up of sinners, marked by tension between the "already" and the "not yet". In the fullness of time Jesus Christ came to bring the covenant to completion: he himself, true God and true man, is the Sacrament of God's fidelity to his plan of salvation for all humanity, for all of us.
The arrival in Bethlehem of the Magi from the East to adore the newborn Messiah is a sign of the manifestation of the universal King to the peoples and to all who seek the truth. It is the beginning of a movement opposed to that of Babel: from confusion to comprehension, from dispersion to reconciliation. Thus, we discern a link between Epiphany and Pentecost: if the Nativity of Christ, who is the Head, is also the Nativity of the Church, his Body, we can see the Magi as the peoples who join the remnant of Israel, foretelling the great sign of the "polyglot Church" that the Holy Spirit carried out 50 days after Easter. The faithful and tenacious love of God which is never lacking in his covenant from generation to generation is the "mystery" of which St Paul speaks in his Letters and in the passage from the Letter to the Ephesians which has just been proclaimed: the Apostle says that this mystery "was made known to me by revelation" (Ep 3,3).
This "mystery" of God's fidelity constitutes the hope of history. It is of course opposed by the impulses of division and tyranny that wound humanity due to sin and conflicts of selfishness. The Church in history is at the service of this "mystery" of blessing for all humanity. The Church fully carries out her mission in this mystery of God's fidelity only when she reflects the light of Christ the Lord within herself and so helps the peoples of the world on their way to peace and authentic progress. Indeed, God's Word revealed through the Prophet Isaiah still continues to apply: "darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you" (Is 60,2). What the prophet proclaimed in Jerusalem was to be fulfilled in Christ's Church: "nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (Is 60,3).
With Jesus Christ, Abraham's blessing was extended to all peoples, to the universal Church as the new Israel which welcomes within her the whole of humanity. Yet, what the prophet said is also true today in many senses: "thick darkness [covers] the peoples" and our history. Indeed, it cannot be said that "globalization" is synonymous with "world order" - it is quite the opposite. Conflicts for economic supremacy and hoarding resources of energy, water and raw materials hinder the work of all who are striving at every level to build a just and supportive world. There is a need for greater hope, which will make it possible to prefer the common good of all to the luxury of the few and the poverty of the many. "This great hope can only be God... not any god, but the God who has a human face" (Spe Salvi, ): the God who showed himself in the Child of Bethlehem and the Crucified and Risen One. If there is great hope, it is possible to persevere in sobriety. If true hope is lacking, happiness is sought in drunkenness, in the superfluous, in excesses, and we ruin ourselves and the world. It is then that moderation is not only an ascetic rule but also a path of salvation for humanity. It is already obvious that only by adopting a sober lifestyle, accompanied by a serious effort for a fair distribution of riches, will it be possible to establish an order of just and sustainable development. For this reason we need people who nourish great hope and thus have great courage: the courage of the Magi, who made a long journey following a star and were able to kneel before a Child and offer him their precious gifts. We all need this courage, anchored to firm hope. May Mary obtain it for us, accompanying us on our earthly pilgrimage with her maternal protection. Amen!13018
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today's celebration is always a cause of special joy for me. Indeed, the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is one of the most expressive moments of our faith, in which we can almost see the mystery of life through the signs of the liturgy. In the first place, there is human life. It is represented here in particular by these 13 children who are the fruit of your love, dear parents, to whom I address my cordial greeting, which I extend to the godparents and the other relatives and friends present. Then comes the mystery of divine life which God gives to these little ones today through rebirth in water and the Holy Spirit. God is life, as some of the pictures that embellish this Sistine Chapel marvellously evoke.
Yet it does not seem out of place if we immediately juxtapose the experience of life with the opposite experience, that is, the reality of death. Sooner or later everything that begins on earth comes to its end, like the meadow grass that springs up in the morning and by evening has wilted. In Baptism, however, the tiny human being receives a new life, the life of grace, which enables him or her to enter into a personal relationship with the Creator for ever, for the whole of eternity. Unfortunately, human beings are capable of extinguishing this new life with their sin, reducing themselves to being in a situation which Sacred Scripture describes as "second death". Whereas for other creatures who are not called to eternity, death means solely the end of existence on earth, in us sin creates an abyss in which we risk being engulfed for ever unless the Father who is in Heaven stretches out his hand to us. This, dear brothers and sisters, is the mystery of Baptism: God desired to save us by going to the bottom of this abyss himself so that every person, even those who have fallen so low that they can no longer perceive Heaven, may find God's hand to cling to and rise from the darkness to see once again the light for which he or she was made. We all feel, we all inwardly comprehend that our existence is a desire for life which invokes fullness and salvation. This fullness is given to us in Baptism.
We have just heard the account of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. It was a different Baptism from that which these babies are about to receive but is deeply connected with it. Basically, the whole mystery of Christ in the world can be summed up in this term: "baptism", which in Greek means "immersion". The Son of God, who from eternity shares the fullness of life with the Father and the Holy Spirit, was "immersed" in our reality as sinners to make us share in his own life: he was incarnate, he was born like us, he grew up like us and, on reaching adulthood, manifested his mission which began precisely with the "baptism of conversion" administered by John the Baptist. Jesus' first public act, as we have just heard, was to go down into the Jordan, mingling among repentant sinners, in order to receive this baptism. John was naturally reluctant to baptize him, but because this was the Father's will, Jesus insisted (cf. Mt 3,13-15).
Why, therefore, did the Father desire this? Was it because he had sent his Only-Begotten Son into the world as the Lamb to take upon himself the sins of the world (cf. Jn 1,29)? The Evangelist recounts that when Jesus emerged from the waters, the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove, while the Father's voice from Heaven proclaimed him "my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Mt 3,17). From that very moment, therefore, Jesus was revealed as the One who came to baptize humanity in the Holy Spirit: he came to give men and women life in abundance (cf. Jn 10,10), eternal life, which brings the human being back to life and heals him entirely, in body and in spirit, restoring him to the original plan for which he was created. The purpose of Christ's existence was precisely to give humanity God's life and his Spirit of love so that every person might be able to draw from this inexhaustible source of salvation. This is why St Paul wrote to the Romans that we were baptized into the death of Christ in order to have his same life as the Risen One (cf. Rm 6,3-4). For this reason Christian parents, such as you today, bring their children to the baptismal font as soon as possible, knowing that life which they have communicated calls for a fullness, a salvation that God alone can give. And parents thus become collaborators of God, transmitting to their children not only physical but also spiritual life.
Dear parents, I thank the Lord with you for the gift of these children and I invoke his assistance so that he may help you to raise them and incorporate them into the spiritual Body of the Church. As you offer them what they need for their growth and salvation may you always be committed, helped by their godparents, to developing in them faith, hope and charity, the theological virtues proper to the new life given to them in the Sacrament of Baptism. You will guarantee this by your presence and your affection; you will guarantee it first of all and above all by prayer, presenting them daily to God and entrusting them to him in every season of their life. If they are to grow healthy and strong, these babies will of course need both material care and many other kinds of attention; yet, what will be most necessary to them, indeed indispensable, will be to know, love and serve God faithfully in order to have eternal life. Dear parents, may you be for them the first witnesses of an authentic faith in God!
In the Rite of Baptism there is an eloquent sign that expresses precisely the transmission of faith. It is the presentation to each of those being baptized of a candle lit from the flame of the Easter candle: it is the light of the Risen Christ, which you will endeavour to pass on to your children. Thus, from one generation to the next we Christians transmit Christ's light to one another in such a way that when he returns he may find us with this flame burning in our hands. During the Rite I shall say to you: "Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly". Dear brothers and sisters, always feed the flame of the faith by listening to and meditating on the Word of God and assiduous communion with Jesus in the Eucharist. May you be assisted in this marvellous if far from easy role by the holy Protectors after whom these 13 children will be named. Above all, may these Saints help those being baptized to reciprocate your loving care as Christian parents. May the Virgin Mary in particular accompany both them and you, dear parents, now and for ever. Amen!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Feast of the Conversion of St Paul brings us once again into the presence of this great Apostle, chosen by God to be a "witness for him to all men" (Ac 22,15). For Saul of Tarsus, the moment of his encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus marked a decisive turning point in his life. His total transformation, a true and proper spiritual conversion, was brought about at that very moment. By divine intervention, the relentless persecutor of God's Church suddenly found himself blind and groping in the dark, but henceforth with a great light in his heart, which was to bring him a little later to be an ardent Apostle of the Gospel. The awareness that divine grace alone could bring about such a conversion never left Paul. When he had already given the best of himself, devoting himself tirelessly to preaching the Gospel, he wrote with renewed fervour: "I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me" (1Co 15,10). Tirelessly, as though the work of the mission depended entirely upon his own efforts, St Paul was nevertheless always motivated by the profound conviction that all his energy came from God's grace at work in him.
The Apostle's words on the relationship between human effort and divine grace resound this evening with a very special meaning. At the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we are even more conscious that the task of restoring unity, which demands all our energy and efforts, is infinitely above our own possibilities. Unity with God and our brothers and sisters is a gift that comes from on high, which flows from the communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit in which it is increased and perfected. It is not in our power to decide when or how this unity will be fully achieved. Only God can do it! Like St Paul, let us also place our hope and trust "in the grace of God which is with us". Dear brothers and sisters, this is what the prayer that together we are raising to the Lord desires to implore: that it may be he who enlightens and sustains us in our ongoing quest for unity.
And it is here that Paul's exhortation to the Christians of Thessalonica acquires its fullest value: "Pray without ceasing" (1Th 5,17), which has been chosen as the theme for the Week of Prayer this year. The Apostle was well acquainted with that community, which had been born from his missionary activity, and nourished great hopes for it. He knew both its merits and its weaknesses. Indeed, there was no lack of behaviour, attitudes and arguments among its members that were likely to create tension and conflict, and Paul intervened to help the community walk in unity and peace. At the end of his Letter, with as it were fatherly goodness, he added a series of very concrete exhortations, inviting Christians to encourage the participation of all, to sustain the weak, to be patient and not to repay evil for evil to anyone but to always seek good, to rejoice and to give thanks on every occasion (cf. 1Th 5,12-22). Paul puts the imperative "pray without ceasing" in the midst of these exhortations. In fact, the other recommendations would lose their power and coherence were they not sustained by prayer. Unity with God and with others is built first of all through a life of prayer, in the constant search for "the will of God in Christ Jesus for us" (cf. 1Th 5,18).
The invitation St Paul addressed to the Thessalonians is still timely. In the face of the shortcomings and sins that still prevent the full communion of Christians, each one of these exhortations has retained its relevance, but this is particularly true of the order "pray without ceasing". What would the ecumenical movement become without the personal or communal prayer that "they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you" (Jn 17,21)? Where would we find the "extra impetus" of faith, hope and charity, of which our search for unity has a special need today? Our desire for unity must not be limited to isolated occasions; it must become an integral part of our whole prayer life. Men and women formed in the Word of God and in prayer have been artisans of reconciliation and unity in every historical period. It was the way of prayer that opened the path for the ecumenical movement as we know it today. Indeed, from the middle of the 18th century various movements of spiritual renewal came into being, eager to contribute through prayer to the promotion of Christian unity. Groups of Catholics, enlivened by outstanding religious figures, played an active role in such initiatives from the outset. Prayer for unity was also supported by my Venerable Predecessors, such as Pope Leo XIII, who in 1895 was already recommending the introduction of a Novena of Prayer for Christian unity. These endeavours, made in accordance with the possibilities of the Church of that time, intended to put into practice the prayer spoken by Jesus himself in the Upper Room "that they may all be one" (Jn 17,21). There is thus no genuine ecumenism whose roots are not implanted in prayer.
This year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the "Church Unity Octave" which subsequently became the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity". One hundred years ago, while he was still an Episcopalian minister, Fr Paul Wattson conceived of an octave of prayer for unity that was celebrated for the first time at Graymoor, New York, from 18 to 25 January 1908. This evening, with great joy I address my greeting to the Minister General and the international delegation of the Franciscan Brothers and Sisters of the Atonement, the Congregation founded by Fr Paul Wattson and an advocate of his spiritual legacy. In the 1930s, the Octave of Prayer underwent important adaptations subsequent to the impulse given to it in particular by Fr Paul Couturier of Lyons, another great champion of spiritual ecumenism. His invitation "to pray for the unity of the Church as Christ wills it and in accordance with the means he wills" enables Christians of all traditions to join in one prayer for unity. Let us thank God for the great prayer movement which for 100 years has accompanied and sustained believers in Christ in their quest for unity. The ship of ecumenism would never have put out to sea had she not been lifted by this broad current of prayer and wafted by the breath of the Holy Spirit.
To coincide with the Week of Prayer, many religious and monastic communities have invited and helped their members to "pray without ceasing" for Christian unity. On this occasion for which we have gathered here, let us remember in particular the life and witness of Sr Maria Gabriella of Unity (1914-36), a Trappist Sister of the convent in Grottaferrata (today in Vitorchiano), [Italy]. When her superior, encouraged by Fr Paul Couturier, asked the Sisters to pray and make a gift of themselves for Christian unity, Sr Maria Gabriella became immediately involved and did not hesitate to dedicate her young life to this great cause. This very day is the 25th anniversary of her Beatification by my Predecessor, Pope John Paul II. The event was celebrated in this Basilica precisely on 25 January 1983, during the celebration for the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Unity. In his Homily, the Servant of God emphasized the three elements on which the search for unity is built: conversion, the Cross and prayer. Sr Maria Gabriella's life and witness were also based on these three elements. Today, as in the past, ecumenism stands in great need of the immense "invisible monastery" of which Fr Paul Couturier spoke, of that vast community of Christians of all traditions who quietly pray and offer their lives so that unity may be achieved.
Furthermore, for exactly 40 years Christian communities worldwide have received meditations and prayers for this Week prepared jointly by the World Council of Churches' "Faith and Order" Commission and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. This felicitous collaboration has made it possible to broaden the vast circle of prayer and to prepare better its content. This evening I cordially greet the Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, who has come to Rome to join us on the centenary of the Week of Prayer. I am pleased that members of the "Joint Working Group" are present and I greet them with affection. The Joint Group is the means of cooperation between the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches in our common search for unity. As I do every year, I also address my fraternal greeting to the Bishops, priests and pastors of the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities who have their representatives here in Rome. Your participation in this prayer is a tangible expression of the bonds that unite us in Christ Jesus: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Mt 18,20).
The Year dedicated to the Apostle Paul's witness and teaching will be inaugurated in this historic Basilica this 28 June. May his tireless zeal in building the Body of Christ in unity help us to pray without ceasing for the full unity of all Christians. Amen!
Benedict XVI Homilies 31127