S. John Paul II Homil. 679
680 World Day of Peace
Wednesday, 1 January 1997
1. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Lc 1,31). Jesus means “God who saves”.
Jesus, the name given by God himself, means: “There is salvation in no one else” (Ac 4,12) except in Jesus of Nazareth, born of the Virgin Mary. In him God became man, thus reaching out to every human being.
“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son” (He 1,1-2). This Son is the eternal Word, one in substance with the Father, made man to reveal the Father to us, and to enable us to understand the whole truth about ourselves. He spoke to us with human words, and with his deeds and his life itself, from his birth to his death on the Cross and to his Resurrection.
From the very beginning all this gives rise to wonder.Already the shepherds who went to Bethlehem marveled at what they had seen, and the others wondered at what the shepherds told them about the newborn Babe (cf. Lc 2,18). Guided by the intuition of faith, they recognized the Messiah in the Child lying in the manger, and the humble birth in Bethlehem of the Son of God spurred them joyously to proclaim the glory of the Most High.
2. From the start the name Jesus belonged to the One who was called thus on the eighth day after his birth. In a certain sense, on coming into the world he brought with him this name which admirably expresses the essence and mission of the Incarnate Word.
He came into the world to save humanity. Therefore when he was given this name, who he was and what was to be his mission were revealed at the same time. Many in Israel were called by this name, but he bore it uniquely, totally fulfilling its meaning: Jesus of Nazareth, Saviour of the world.
3. St Paul, as we heard in the second reading, writes: “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law ... so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Ga 4,4-5). From the very beginning time was joined to the name of Jesus. This name accompanies him in his earthly life immersed in time, but without his being subject to it, since in him is the fullness of time. Indeed, God brought fullness to human time by entering with it into man’s history. He did not enter as an abstract concept. He entered as a Father who gives life — a new life, divine life — to his adoptive children. By the work of Jesus Christ, we can all share in the divine life: children in the Son, destined to the glory of eternity.
St Paul then goes more deeply into this truth: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Ga 4,6). In us, human beings, the divine sonship comes from Christ and is brought about by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes to teach us that we are children and at the same time to make this divine sonship effective in us. The Son is he who with all his being says to God: “Abba! Father!”.
Here we are touching on the culminating point of the mystery of our Christian life. In fact, the name “Christian” indicates a new way of being, to be in the likeness of the Son of God. As sons in the Son, we share in salvation, which is not only the deliverance from evil, but is first of all the fullness of good: of the supreme good of the son-ship of God. And it is the Spirit of God who renews the face of the earth (cf. Ps Ps 103 :30). On the first day of the new year, the Church invites us to become ever more deeply aware of this. She invites us to consider human time in this light.
681 4. Today’s liturgy celebrates the solemnity of the Mother of God. Mary is the one who was chosen to be Mother of the Redeemer, sharing intimately in his mission. In the light of Christmas, the mystery of her divine motherhood is illumined. Mary, Mother of Jesus who was born in the Bethlehem cave, is also the Mother of every man and woman who comes into the world. How is it possible not to commend to her the year that is beginning, to implore a time of serenity and peace for all humanity? On the day when this new year begins under the blessed gaze of the Mother of God, let us invoke the gift of peace for each one and all.
5. In fact, for several years now, on the initiative of my Predecessor, Pope Paul VI, 1 January has been celebrated as World Day of Peace. Here we are in the Vatican Basilica this year also, to implore the gift of peace for the nations of the whole world.
The presence of the distinguished ambassadors to the Holy See, whom I greet respectfully, is significant in this perspective. I also affectionately greet the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, and all his co-workers, as I thank them for the valuable contribution they make to spreading the message of peace which the Church never tires of repeating.
This year the theme of the Message for this Day is “Offer forgiveness and receive peace”. How necessary forgiveness is if peace is to spring forth in the heart of every believer and every person of goodwill! The dual words of peace and forgiveness are as it were inseparable. Every person of goodwill, keen to work tirelessly to build the civilization of love, must make this invitation his own: offer forgiveness, receive peace.
6. The Church prays and strives for peace in every dimension: for the peace of consciences, for the peace of families, for peace among the nations. She is concerned for peace in the world since she is aware that only through peace can the great community of men develop authentically.
Drawing towards the end of this century in which the world, and especially Europe, have experienced many wars and much suffering, how we long for the threshold of the year 2000 to be crossed by all men and women under the banner of peace! For this reason, thinking of humanity called to live another year of grace, let us repeat with Moses the words of the Old Covenant: “The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (NM 6,24-26). In addition, let us repeat with faith and hope the Apostle’s words: “Christ is our peace!” (cf. Eph Ep 2,14). Let us trust in the Lord’s help and in the motherly protection of Mary, Queen of Peace. Let us put our hope in Jesus, the name of salvation given to men and women of every language and race. Confessing his name, let us walk trustfully toward the future, certain that we will not be disappointed if we trust in the most holy Name of Jesus.
In te Domine speravi,
non confundar in aeternum.
1. “Arise [Jerusalem], shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Is 1,1).
682 Today, the Solemnity of Epiphany, this is how the prophet’s words resound. The ancient, evocative oracle of Isaiah in a way foretells the light that shone on the stable in Bethlehem on Christmas night, anticipating the angels' song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (Lc 2,14). In a certain sense, in pointing to the light the prophet is pointing to Christ. As it shone for the shepherds seeking the newborn Messiah, so this light shines today on the path of the Magi, come from the East to adore him who was born King of the Jews.
The Magi represent the peoples of the whole earth who, in the light of the Lord’s birth, set out on the way leading to Jesus and, in a certain sense, are the first to receive that salvation inaugurated by the Saviour’s birth and brought to fulfilment in the paschal mystery of his Death and Resurrection.
When they reached Bethlehem, the Magi adored the divine Child and offered him symbolic gifts, becoming forerunners of the peoples and nations which down the centuries never cease to seek and meet Christ.
2. In the second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul comments with deep wonder on the mystery celebrated in today’s solemnity: “Assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation.... the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel (Ep 3,2-3 Ep 5-6). A son of the chosen nation, converted to Christ, Paul came to share in divine Revelation, after the other Apostles, to transmit it to the nations of the whole world. After this great turning point in his life, he understood that all peoples have been chosen as well and that all men are called to salvation because they are “partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (Ep 3,6). Indeed, the light of Christ and the universal call to salvation are meant for the peoples of all the earth. “This character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord himself whereby the Catholic Church ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods under Christ the Head in the unity of his Spirit” (Lumen gentium LG 13).
3. Thus we understand the full meaning of Epiphany, presented by Paul in the way in which he himself understood and practised it. The Apostle’s task is to spread the Gospel throughout the world, proclaiming to mankind the redemption wrought by Christ and to lead all humanity on the path of salvation, manifested by God on the night in Bethlehem. The Church’s missionary activity, through its many stages down the centuries, finds its starting point and universal scope in the feast of Epiphany.
Precisely to stress the universal character of the Church’s mission, it has been the custom for a number of years that on the feast of Epiphany the Bishop of Rome lays his hands on priests from various countries and invokes the Holy Spirit for their episcopal service.
Today I have the joy of conferring the fullness of the priesthood on 12 brothers. During the episcopal consecration the Gospel Book will be placed on their head to emphasize that bringing the Good News is their fundamental mission, a mission filled with joy and labour for all those who are committed to carrying it out with responsibility and faith. Let us pray together that the light which illumined the Magi on their way to Bethlehem may also accompany these newly chosen Bishops.
4. Dear Brothers chosen by God for the episcopal ministry, I wish each of you the wealth and fullness of Christ's Epiphany. I wish this for you, Archbishop Luigi Pezzuto, who will be the papal representative in Congo and Gabon, in the heart of the African continent so dear to me. I pray for you, Archbishop Paolo Sardi, appointed Apostolic Nuncio with special duties, who will still be working beside me in the Secretariat of State, and I thank you for the service you have given thus far, hoping that you will continue in the same way with the same zeal. I greet you, Archbishop Varkey Vithayathil, to whom I give the very important task of administering the Major Archiepiscopal Church of Ernakulam-Angamaly for Syro-Malabars, in the Indian state of Kerala. I hope that the fullness of Christ’s Epiphany may shine for you, Bishop Delio Lucarelli, Pastor of the Diocese of Rieti; for you, Bishop Ignace Sambar-Talkena of Kara, Togo, and for you, Bishop Luciano Pacomio, Pastor of the Diocese of Mondovì. May the light of the Holy Spirit guide you, Bishop Angelo Massafra, the first Bishop of Rrëshen and Apostolic Administrator of Lezhë, Albania, and you, Bishop Florentin Crihãlmeanu, called to work as Auxiliary with the Bishop of your Diocese of Cluj-Gherla, Romania. May the Lord support you, Bishop Jean-Claude Périsset, in your office as Adjunct Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and you, dear Bishop Piotr Libera, who are to work with my brother, the Archbishop of Katowice, Poland, as his Auxiliary. May he be with you, Bishop Basilio do Nascimento, sent to the faithful of the new Diocese of Baucau, East Timor, and may the same Holy Spirit and his grace be with you, Bishop Hil Kabashi, whom Providence is sending to Southern Albania.
5. Dear and venerable Brothers, at this moment I like to think of you beside the Magi as you adore the King of peace, the Saviour of the world, and see the hand of the Child Jesus guided by that of his holy Mother in the act of blessing each one of you. It is the Lamb of God, the Shepherd of Shepherds, who is asking you to extend and spread his charity in the wondrous Body of the Church and in every part of the world, during these years of preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. Strengthened by his help, go forth without hesitating; be faithful and courageous apostles of Christ, proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel, the light that illumines all peoples. Do not be afraid! Christ is with us every day, until the end of the world (cf. Mt 28,20).
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today ... and forever” (He 13,8).
683 Sunday, 12 January 1997
1. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28,19).
Today the Church is celebrating the feast of the Baptism of Christ, and this year too I have the joy of administering the sacrament of Baptism to several newborn babies: 10 girls and nine boys, 14 of whom are Italian, two Polish, one Spanish, one Mexican and one Indian. Welcome, dear parents, who have come here with your little ones. I also greet the godparents, as well as all of you who are present.
2. Dear brothers and sisters, before administering this sacrament to these newborn children, I would like to reflect with you on the word of God we have just heard. The Gospel according to Mark, like the other synoptics, recounts Jesus’ Baptism in the River Jordan. The liturgy of Epiphany recalls this event in a triptych that includes the adoration of the Magi from the East and the wedding at Cana. Each of these three moments in the life of Jesus of Nazareth is a particular revelation of his divine sonship. The Eastern Churches give particular emphasis to today’s feast, calling it in short, “Jordan”. They consider it a moment in the manifestation of Christ closely connected with Christmas. Indeed, more than his birth in Bethlehem, the Eastern liturgy highlights the revelation of Jesus as Son of God, which took place with extraordinary intensity precisely during his Baptism in the Jordan.
What John the Baptist was conferring on the banks of the Jordan was a baptism of repentance for conversion and the forgiveness of sins. But he announced: “After me comes one who is mightier than I.... I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mc 1,7-8). He proclaimed this to a multitude of penitents who flocked to him confessing their sins, repenting and preparing to correct their lives.
The Baptism given by Jesus, which the Church, faithful to his command, does not cease to administer, is quite different. This Baptism frees man from original sin and forgives his sins, saves him from slavery to evil and is a sign of his rebirth in the Holy Spirit; it imparts to him a new life, which is participation in the life of God the Father, given to us by his Only-Begotten Son who became man, died and rose again.
3. As Jesus comes out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove, the heavens open and the Father’s voice is heard from on high: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mc 1,11). Thus the event of Christ’s Baptism is not only a revelation of his divine sonship, but at the same time a revelation of the whole Blessed Trinity. The Father — the voice from on high — reveals in Jesus the Only-Begotten Son consubstantial with him, and all this comes about by virtue of the Holy Spirit who, in the form of a dove, descends on Christ, the Lord’s Anointed.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we read of the Baptism administered by the Apostle Peter to the centurion Cornelius and his family. Thus Peter carries out the risen Christ’s command to his disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28,19). Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit is the first and basic sacrament of the Church, the sacrament of new life in Christ.
4. Dear brothers and sisters, in a few moments these children will also receive Baptism and become living members of the Church. They will first be anointed with the oil of catechumens, a sign of Christ’s gentle strength given to them to fight against evil. Then blessed water will be poured on them, a sign of their interior purification through the gift of the Holy Spirit, poured out by Jesus as he was dying on the Cross. They are then immediately given a second and more important anointing with “chrism”, to show that they are consecrated in the image of Jesus, the Father’s Anointed. Then each child's father receives a candle to be lit from the paschal candle, a symbol of the light of faith which the parents and godparents must continue to safeguard and nourish with the life-giving grace of the Spirit.
Dear parents and godparents, let us entrust these little ones to the Virgin Mary’s motherly intercession. Let us ask her to make them, dressed in their white garments, a sign of their new dignity as children of God, true Christians and courageous witnesses to the Gospel throughout their lives.
684 MASS CELEBRATED AT THE ROMAN PARISH OF St MARY HOPE
Sunday, 19 January 1997
1. “The Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’?” (1S 3,4).
This Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word presents the theme of vocation to us. It is described first of all in the first reading, taken from the First Book of Samuel. A short time ago we listened to the evocative story of the vocation of the prophet, whom God called by name, wakening him from his sleep. At first the young Samuel does not understand where this mysterious voice comes from. It is only later and gradually, and thanks to the explanation of the elderly priest, Eli, that he discovers that what he has heard is actually God's voice. So then he replies immediately: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (ibid., 3:10).
We can say that Samuel’s call has a paradigmatic meaning, since it is the completion of a process that is repeated in every vocation. God's voice in fact is heard with increasing clarity and the subject gradually acquires an awareness of its divine origin. With time the person called by God learns to be increasingly open to God’s word, ready to listen and to do his will in his own life. 2. The account of Samuel’s vocation in the context of the Old Testament corresponds, in a certain sense, to what St John writes about the vocation of the Apostles. The first to be called was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. It was he who led his brother to Christ, telling him: “We have found the Messiah” (Jn 1,42). When Jesus saw Simon, he said to him: “‘So you are Simon, the son of John? You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter)” (ibid., 1:41).
In this brief but solemn description of the vocation of Jesus' disciples the theme of “searching” and “finding” is foremost. The attitude of the two brothers, Andrew and Simon, shows that desire for the fulfilment of the prophecies which was an essential part of Old Testament faith. Israel was waiting for the promised Messiah; he was sought more zealously after John the Baptist began to preach on the banks of the Jordan. The Baptist not only announced the imminent coming of the Messiah, but indicated his presence in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who had come to the Jordan to be baptized. The call of the first Apostles took place precisely in this context, that is, it sprang from the Baptists's faith in the Messiah now present among the People of God.
Today’s responsorial psalm also speaks of the Messiah's coming into the world. This Sunday’s liturgy puts the words of the psalmist on Jesus' lips: “Lo, I come; in the roll of the book it is written of me ... to do your will” (Ps 40 :7-8). When the fullness of time had come, this presence of the Messiah announced by God in the prophetic books became a historical reality in the mystery of the Incarnation. Having only recently celebrated the Christmas season, a time of joy and festivity over the Saviour's birth, we all still have before our eyes and in our hearts the celebration of that fulfilment of the messianic prophecies on the night of Bethlehem. After the Christmas season, the liturgy now shows us the gradual beginning of Jesus' saving mission through the simple and direct accounts of the Apostles' vocation.
3. Dear brothers and sisters of the parish of St Mary of Hope, I am pleased to be with you today to celebrate the Eucharist on this Sunday which falls in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I am sure that during these days, your parish will not fail to pray more insistently for this goal — Christian unity —which the Divine Redeemer has so much at heart.
I know that you have been waiting a long time for my Pastoral Visit. I greet you all with affection, starting with the Cardinal Vicar, Camillo Ruini, the Auxiliary Bishop of the area, Bishop Enzo Dieci, and Fr Juan Edmundo Vecchi, Rector Major of Salesians, whom we have the joy of having with us today. I also greet the parish priest, Fr Stelvio Tonnini, together with the parochial vicars and all the sons and daughters of Don Bosco, who have worked so generously in this community since its foundation.
My thoughts also turn to the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts, founded by Fr Variara, to the members of the various organizations of pastoral participation, to the representatives of the many active parish groups, to so many lay people involved in one way or another in the various activities of your parish.
You live in a large metropolitan area, where the problems might seem to be less serious than in other parts of Rome. However, here too people must daily face inconveniences, such as the problem of spending the whole day far from one’s own home, with negative consequences for family life and for forming true friendships in one's neighbourhood. In this context the parish, which is the only gathering place, has an important role. With its various and well-organized activities, it becomes a suitable place for a spiritual, formative, cultural and recreational journey for all.
685 Your community now has a large and beautiful place of worship, strongly desired by all of you and, especially, by the late Rector Major of the Salesian Society, Fr Egidio Viganò, whom we remember with special affection in this Eucharist. Before the consecration of this church, which took place about a year ago, the parish was hosted for some years by the nearby Pontifical Salesian University. I thank those in charge and the teachers of the Salesian University not only for the hospitality they offered your parish community for many years, but also for the generous theological, pastoral and cultural service they offer the Diocese of Rome and the whole Church.
4. Dear brothers and sisters, during our meeting I have been able to observe how the pastoral care of young people, so important to St John Bosco, is given special attention in your parish. There are so many projects and paths offered to them, such as the Oratory-Youth Centre, which has 80 people of all ages on its formation staff, who give the whole parish community a note of liveliness and energy.
I know that you are seriously preparing for the celebration of the great city mission. Only yesterday was the letter published, which I addressed to all Romans on Christmas Day to present them with the Gospel of Mark: it will also be given to every family in this community. In that letter I stressed how there is no news so surprising as that contained in the Gospel: “God himself — in Jesus —reached out to us personally; he became one of us; he was crucified and rose from the dead and calls us all to share in his life for ever”. I urge you to take this joyful news to those who are not with us here today; take it to all the boys and girls, to the families, people who are alone, the elderly and the sick. Offer everyone the Good News of the Gospel, so that, like the Apostle Andrew, they can say: “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1,41).
5. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?... Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” (1Co 6,15). These words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians deserve special reflection, because they describe the Christian vocation. Yes, the Holy Spirit is present in each one of us, and we have received him from God. Therefore, we no longer belong to ourselves (cf. 1Co 6,19), because we have been bought “with a price” (cf. ibid., 6:23).
Paul wants to make the Corinthians, to whom his Letter is addressed, aware of this truth: man belongs to God, first of all because he is one of God’s creatures, but more especially because he was redeemed from sin through Christ. To become aware of this means to reach the very roots of every vocation.
This is true in the first place for the Christian vocation and, on this basis, it is true for every particular vocation: for the priesthood, the religious life, marriage, and indeed for every other vocation connected with various activities and professions such as that of the doctor, engineer, artist, teacher, etc. For a Christian all these special vocations have their foundation in the great mystery of the Redemption.
Precisely because he has been redeemed by Christ and become the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit, every Christian can find in himself those various talents and charisms that allow him to develop his life creatively. He is thus able to serve God and his brothers and sisters, suitably responding to his particular vocation in the Christian community and in the social context in which he lives. I hope that you will all be aware of the dignity of your Christian vocation, attentive to the voice of God who calls and generous in proclaiming his saving presence to your brothers and sisters.
Speak, Lord, because we, your servants, are ready to listen to you!
“You alone have the words of eternal life” (cf. Gospel acclamation).
686 1. “Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us; and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever” (Ps 117 :1-2). With these words from the psalm, the Old Testament already proclaimed God’s saving plan for all the nations.This plan is universal; indeed, it could even be said to be “ecumenical” since it concerns the inhabited earth, that is, the oikoumene.
This vision of the salvation God offers all peoples of the world is also described in the first reading of today’s liturgy through the image of the messianic feast. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food” (Is 25,6). The prophet Isaiah gives us a glimpse of the mysterious and provident work of the Lord, who acts in the service of unity and the salvation of humanity. He lifts the veil obscuring the peoples’ gaze, swallows up death and wipes away tears from all faces (cf. Is Is 25,7-8).
Yes, this extraordinary power really comes from God; in him we put our hope. However, at the same time we feel committed to supporting this plan of salvation with all our energy.
This universalist perspective already present in the Old Testament is echoed in today’s Gospel, which presents us with the missionary mandate Jesus gave his Apostles before his Ascension into heaven: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mc 16,15). He then added: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mc 16,16). With strong and decisive words at the end of his messianic mission, Christ once again confirms the universal plan of salvation willed by the Father and indicates its global dimension by speaking of all the nations and all the world.
2. This universal mission of salvation takes on great importance on the day when the Church commemorates the conversion of St Paul. Among the Apostles, in fact, Paul himself expresses and fulfils the Church’s universal mission in a particular way. On the road to Damascus Christ associates him with the divine plan of universal salvation: “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will ... for you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard” (Ac 22,14-16).
Until that moment the zealous Pharisee Saul was convinced that the plan of salvation concerned only one people: Israel. He therefore fought the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christians, with every possible means. From Jerusalem he went to Damascus precisely because there, where Christianity was spreading rapidly, he wanted to imprison and punish all those who were abandoning the ancient traditions of their fathers and were embracing the Christian faith. Near Damascus, he is illumined by a light from on high. He falls to the ground, and at that dramatic moment Christ makes him aware of his error.
On this occasion, Jesus reveals himself fully to Paul as the One who rose from the dead. Thus the Apostle is allowed “to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth” (Ac 22,14). From that moment, Paul becomes an “apostle” like the Twelve, and, when addressing the Galatians, will be able to state: “He who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal 1:15ff.).
3. Dear brothers and sisters, it is truly a happy occasion that gathers us every year in this ancient Basilica for the Eucharistic celebration that closes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We recall Paul’s conversion in this church dedicated to him. From the time when the risen Jesus revealed himself to him in Damascus, to the supreme witness he gave in Rome, Paul was a zealous servant of the communion which must exist among the members of the Body of Christ. His “daily pressure” was, as he himself confesses, “my anxiety for all the Churches” (2Co 11,28).
Precisely from his apostolic work for the reconciliation and communion of believers the theme for the Week of Prayer this year draws its inspiration: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2Co 5,20).
The striving for reconciliation in accordance with truth and love, which was the centre of our prayer during this Week, must accompany us every day. Today’s Eucharistic celebration is a sign of our quest for deeper communion among all Christians. It acquires a specific ecumenical significance thanks to the presence of our very dear brother in Christ, the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, His Holiness Aram I, whom I greet with cordial brotherly affection.
The Armenian nation was baptized at the beginning of the fourth century. The trials and persecution suffered down the centuries by the Armenian people and their Church are well known. Precisely because of these events, at the beginning of the second millennium part of the population was obliged to flee from Armenia and take refuge in Cilicia, the land of Paul of Tarsus. The Catholicate of the Great House of Cilicia played an important role in guaranteeing the Christian life of the Armenian people during the diaspora.
687 4. The embrace of peace between the Catholicos and the Bishop of Rome, Successor of the Apostle Peter, and the blessing they will impart together in the Lord’s name, testify to their mutual recognition of the legitimacy of the apostolic succession. Even in the diversity of the tasks entrusted to each, we are co-responsible together for what binds us: to transmit faithfully the faith received from the Apostles, to witness to the love of Christ for every human being in the frequently tragic situations of the contemporary world, to strengthen our progress towards the full unity of all Christ’s disciples. To do this, we need periodically to consult one another, so that we can proclaim the Gospel in unison and serve it with an undivided heart.
I invite you all, dear brothers and sisters present here, to pray that the much appreciated visit to the Bishop of Rome by the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia may encourage each one of us increasingly to live the mystery of communion in accordance with the truth and in charity. May the blood of our martyrs and the communion of our saints help us to be renewed in the Tradition we have in common. The recent visit of the Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Karekin I, was an eloquent witness to our will to deepen our communion in a reciprocal diakonia: “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1Co 12,26). Thus we have encouraged each other to serve one another through charity (cf. Gal Ga 5,13).
5. In recent years the celebration of the conversion of St Paul has become the annual feast of ecumenical commitment. In Rome, as all over the world, disciples of Christ belonging to the various Churches and Communities meet to raise a chorus of prayer to God for Christian unity. The association of this prayer with the liturgical feast of the conversion of St Paul highlights the fact that the unity and communion of all Christians can be attained only by way of conversion.
On this day we especially recall the words of Jesus’ priestly prayer: “That they may all be one, even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17,21). Christ’s prayer discloses to us the profound dimension of conversion: to be converted to unity means to clear the way of the greatest obstacle to the world’s conversion to Christ.
Just as Paul of Tarsus discovered the true way that leads to salvation and understood that the crucified and risen Christ has led the people of Israel and all humanity to it, so also Christians must realize that the way of salvation comes through their unity in Christ, and that this requres a special spiritual commitment by all. The Second Vatican Council has explained the meaning of unitatis redintegratio among all Christians, illustrating its methods and means at the present moment in the Church’s history. In the Encyclical Ut unum sint I wished to recall, 30 years after its publication, the directives of this conciliar document, drawing timely applications from it.
6. Today we give thanks to the Blessed Trinity for the efforts made in recent years and, at the same time, we ask for light for the new steps to be taken on this path, in generous and faithful obedience to the impulses of the Holy Spirit.
During this Week of Prayer, ecumenical meetings and special celebrations have been held in every part of the world to ask God for the great gift of unity. The Church in Rome, particularly linked with the apostolic tradition of Sts Peter and Paul, has also participated in this unanimous prayer of all Christians. She is founded on the pillars of the Coryphaei of the Apostles. Due precisely to her particular identity, she wishes to offer signs of acceptance and communion to the community of Christ’s disciples throughout the world. With them, she also proclaims the greatness of the Lord’s name to all peoples of our time.
“Praise the Lord, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us;
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever”.
S. John Paul II Homil. 679