Ut unum sint
Ioannes Paulus PP. II
Ut unum sint
On commitment to Ecumenism
1 Ut unum sint! The call for Christian unity madeby the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council with such impassioned commitment isfinding an ever greater echo in the hearts of believers, especially as the Year2000 approaches, a year which Christians will celebrate as a sacred Jubilee,the commemoration of the Incarnation of the Son of God, who became man in orderto save humanity.
The courageous witness of so many martyrs of our century, including membersof Churches and Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the CatholicChurch, gives new vigour to the Council's call and reminds us of our duty tolisten to and put into practice its exhortation. These brothers and sisters ofours, united in the selfless offering of their lives for the Kingdom of God,are the most powerful proof that every factor of division can be transcendedand overcome in the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel.
Christ calls all his disciples to unity. My earnest desire is torenew this call today, to propose it once more with determination, repeatingwhat I said at the Roman Colosseum on Good Friday 1994, at the end of themeditation on the Via Crucis prepared by my Venerable BrotherBartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. There I stated thatbelievers in Christ, united in following in the footsteps of the martyrs,cannot remain divided. If they wish truly and effectively to oppose the world'stendency to reduce to powerlessness the Mystery of Redemption, they must professtogether the same truth about the Cross.1 The Cross! Ananti-Christian outlook seeks to minimize the Cross, to empty it of its meaning,and to deny that in it man has the source of his new life. It claims that theCross is unable to provide either vision or hope. Man, it says, is nothing butan earthly being, who must live as if God did not exist.
2 No one is unaware of the challenge which all this posesto believers. They cannot fail to meet this challenge. Indeed, how could theyrefuse to do everything possible, with God's help, to break down the walls ofdivision and distrust, to overcome obstacles and prejudices which thwart theproclamation of the Gospel of salvation in the Cross of Jesus, the one Redeemerof man, of every individual?
I thank the Lord that he has led us to make progress along the path of unityand communion between Christians, a path difficult but so full of joy.Interconfessional dialogues at the theological level have produced positive andtangible results: this encourages us to move forward.
Nevertheless, besides the doctrinal differences needing to be resolved,Christians cannot underestimate the burden of long-standing misgivings inheritedfrom the past, and of mutual misunderstandings and prejudices.Complacency, indifference and insufficient knowledge of one anotheroften make this situation worse. Consequently, the commitment to ecumenism mustbe based upon the conversion of hearts and upon prayer, which will also lead tothe necessary purification of past memories. With the grace of the HolySpirit, the Lord's disciples, inspired by love, by the power of the truth andby a sincere desire for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, are called to re-examinetogether their painful past and the hurt which that past regrettablycontinues to provoke even today. All together, they are invited by the everfresh power of the Gospel to acknowledge with sincere and total objectivity themistakes made and the contingent factors at work at the origins of theirdeplorable divisions. What is needed is a calm, clear-sighted and truthfulvision of things, a vision enlivened by divine mercy and capable of freeingpeople's minds and of inspiring in everyone a renewed willingness, preciselywith a view to proclaiming the Gospel to the men and women of every people andnation.
3 At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Churchcommitted herself irrevocably to following the path of the ecumenicalventure, thus heeding the Spirit of the Lord, who teaches people to interpret carefullythe "signs of the times" . The experiences of these years have madethe Church even more profoundly aware of her identity and her mission inhistory. The Catholic Church acknowledges and confesses the weaknesses ofher members, conscious that their sins are so many betrayals of andobstacles to the accomplishment of the Saviour's plan. Because she feelsherself constantly called to be renewed in the spirit of the Gospel, she doesnot cease to do penance. At the same time, she acknowledges and exalts stillmore the power of the Lord, who fills her with the gift of holiness,leads her forward, and conforms her to his Passion and Resurrection.
Taught by the events of her history, the Church is committed to freeingherself from every purely human support, in order to live in depth the Gospellaw of the Beatitudes. Conscious that the truth does not impose itself except"by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind atonce quietly and with power",2 she seeks nothing for herself butthe freedom to proclaim the Gospel. Indeed, her authority is exercised in theservice of truth and charity.
I myself intend to promote every suitable initiative aimed at making thewitness of the entire Catholic community understood in its full purity andconsistency, especially considering the engagement which awaits the Church atthe threshold of the new Millennium. That will be an exceptional occasion, inview of which she asks the Lord to increase the unity of all Christians untilthey reach full communion.3 The present Encyclical Letter is meant as acontribution to this most noble goal. Essentially pastoral in character, itseeks to encourage the efforts of all who work for the cause of unity.
4 This is a specific duty of the Bishop of Rome as theSuccessor of the Apostle Peter. I carry out this duty with the profoundconviction that I am obeying the Lord, and with a clear sense of my own humanfrailty. Indeed, if Christ himself gave Peter this special mission in theChurch and exhorted him to strengthen his brethren, he also made clear to himhis human weakness and his special need of conversion: "And when you haveturned again, strengthen your brethren" (Lc 22,32). It is preciselyin Peter's human weakness that it becomes fully clear that the Pope, in orderto carry out this special ministry in the Church, depends totally on the Lord'sgrace and prayer: "I have prayed for you that your faith may notfail" (Lc 22,32). The conversion of Peter and that of hisSuccessors is upheld by the very prayer of the Redeemer, and the Churchconstantly makes this petition her own. In our ecumenical age, marked by theSecond Vatican Council, the mission of the Bishop of Rome is particularlydirected to recalling the need for full communion among Christ's disciples.
The Bishop of Rome himself must fervently make his own Christ's prayer forthat conversion which is indispensable for "Peter" to be able toserve his brethren. I earnestly invite the faithful of the Catholic Church andall Christians to share in this prayer. May all join me in praying for thisconversion!
We know that during her earthly pilgrimage the Church has suffered and willcontinue to suffer opposition and persecution. But the hope which sustains heris unshakable, just as the joy which flows from this hope is indestructible. Ineffect, the firm and enduring rock upon which she is founded is Jesus Christ,her Lord.
5 Together with all Christ's disciples, the CatholicChurch bases upon God's plan her ecumenical commitment to gather all Christiansinto unity. Indeed, "the Church is not a reality closed in on herself.Rather, she is permanently open to missionary and ecumenical endeavour, for sheis sent to the world to announce and witness, to make present and spread themystery of communion which is essential to her, and to gather all people andall things into Christ, so as to be for all an 'inseparable sacrament of unity'".4
Already in the Old Testament, the Prophet Ezekiel, referring to thesituation of God's People at that time, and using the simple sign of two brokensticks which are first divided and then joined together, expressed the divinewill to "gather from all sides" the members of his scattered people."I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will knowthat I the Lord sanctify Israel" (cf. 37:16-28). The Gospel of John, forits part, considering the situation of the People of God at the time it waswritten, sees in Jesus' death the reason for the unity of God's children:"Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but togather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (11:51-52).Indeed, as the Letter to the Ephesians explains, Jesus "broke down thedividing wall of hostility ... through the Cross, thereby bringing the hostilityto an end"; in place of what was divided he brought about unity (cf.2:14-16).
6 The unity of all divided humanity is the will of God.For this reason he sent his Son, so that by dying and rising for us he mightbestow on us the Spirit of love. On the eve of his sacrifice on the Cross,Jesus himself prayed to the Father for his disciples and for all those whobelieve in him, that theymight be one, a living communion. This is thebasis not only of the duty, but also of the responsibility before God and hisplan, which falls to those who through Baptism become members of the Body ofChrist, a Body in which the fullness of reconciliation and communion must bemade present. How is it possible to remain divided, if we have been"buried" through Baptism in the Lord's death, in the very act bywhich God, through the death of his Son, has broken down the walls of division?Division "openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumblingblock to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaimingthe Good News to every creature".5
7 "The Lord of the Ages wisely and patiently followsout the plan of his grace on behalf of us sinners. In recent times he has begunto bestow more generously upon divided Christians remorse over their divisionsand a longing for unity. Everywhere, large numbers have felt the impulse ofthis grace, and among our separated brethren also there increases from dayto day a movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for therestoration of unity among all Christians. Taking part in this movement,which is called ecumenical, are those who invoke the Triune God and confessJesus as Lord and Saviour. They join in not merely as individuals but also asmembers of the corporate groups in which they have heard the Gospel, and whicheach regards as his Church and, indeed, God's. And yet almost everyone, thoughin different ways, longs that there may be one visible Church of God, aChurch truly universal and sent forth to the whole world that the world may beconverted to the Gospel and so be saved, to the glory of God".6
8 This statement of the Decree Unitatis Redintegratiois to be read in the context of the complete teaching of the Second VaticanCouncil. The Council expresses the Church's decision to take up the ecumenicaltask of working for Christian unity and to propose it with conviction andvigour: "This sacred Synod exhorts all the Catholic faithful to recognizethe signs of the times and to participate actively in the work ofecumenism".7
In indicating the Catholic principles of ecumenism, the Decree UnitatisRedintegratio recalls above all the teaching on the Church set forth in theDogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium in its chapter on the People ofGod.8 At the same time, it takes into account everything affirmed inthe Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae.9
The Catholic Church embraces with hope the commitment to ecumenism as a dutyof the Christian conscience enlightened by faith and guided by love. Here toowe can apply the words of Saint Paul to the first Christians of Rome:"God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit";thus our "hope does not disappoint us" (Rm 5,5). This is thehope of Christian unity, which has its divine source in the Trinitarian unityof the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
9 Jesus himself, at the hour of his Passion, prayed"that they may all be one" (Jn 17,21). This unity, which theLord has bestowed on his Church and in which he wishes to embrace all people,is not something added on, but stands at the very heart of Christ's mission.Nor is it some secondary attribute of the community of his disciples. Rather,it belongs to the very essence of this community. God wills the Church, becausehe wills unity, and unity is an expression of the whole depth of his agape.
In effect, this unity bestowed by the Holy Spirit does not merely consist inthe gathering of people as a collection of individuals. It is a unityconstituted by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments andhierarchical communion.10 The faithful are one because, in theSpirit, they are in communion with the Son and, in him, share in his communionwith the Father: "Our fellowship is with the Father and with hisSon Jesus Christ" (1 Jn 1Jn 1,3). For the Catholic Church, then, thecommunionof Christians is none other than the manifestation in them of the grace bywhich God makes them sharers in his own communion, which is his eternallife. Christ's words "that they may be one" are thus his prayer tothe Father that the Father's plan may be fully accomplished, in such a way thateveryone may clearly see "what is the plan of the mystery hidden for agesin God who created all things" (Ep 3,9). To believe in Christmeans to desire unity; to desire unity means to desire the Church; to desirethe Church means to desire the communion of grace which corresponds to theFather's plan from all eternity. Such is the meaning of Christ's prayer: "Utunum sint".
10 In the present situation of the lack of unity amongChristians and of the confident quest for full communion, the Catholic faithfulare conscious of being deeply challenged by the Lord of the Church. The SecondVatican Council strengthened their commitment with a clear ecclesiologicalvision, open to all the ecclesial values present among other Christians. TheCatholic faithful face the ecumenical question in a spirit of faith.
The Council states that the Church of Christ "subsists in the CatholicChurch, which is governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops incommunion with him", and at the same time acknowledges that "many elementsof sanctification and of truth can be found outside her visible structure.These elements, however, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ,possess an inner dynamism towards Catholic unity".11
"It follows that these separated Churches and Communities, though webelieve that they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived ofsignificance and value in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christhas not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive theirefficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the CatholicChurch".12
11 The Catholic Church thus affirms that during the twothousand years of her history she has been preserved in unity, with all themeans with which God wishes to endow his Church, and this despite the oftengrave crises which have shaken her, the infidelity of some of her ministers,and the faults into which her members daily fall. The Catholic Church knowsthat, by virtue of the strength which comes to her from the Spirit, theweaknesses, mediocrity, sins and at times the betrayals of some of her childrencannot destroy what God has bestowed on her as part of his plan of grace.Moreover, "the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16,18). Even so, the Catholic Church does not forget that many among hermembers cause God's plan to be discernible only with difficulty. Speaking ofthe lack of unity among Christians, the Decree on Ecumenism does not ignore thefact that "people of both sides were to blame",13 andacknowledges that responsibility cannot be attributed only to the "otherside". By God's grace, however, neither what belongs to the structure ofthe Church of Christ nor that communion which still exists with the otherChurches and Ecclesial Communities has been destroyed.
Indeed, the elements of sanctification and truth present in the otherChristian Communities, in a degree which varies from one to the other,constitute the objective basis of the communion, albeit imperfect, which existsbetween them and the Catholic Church.
To the extent that these elements are found in other Christian Communities,the one Church of Christ is effectively present in them. For this reason theSecond Vatican Council speaks of a certain, though imperfect communion. TheDogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium stresses that the Catholic Church"recognizes that in many ways she is linked" 14 with theseCommunities by a true union in the Holy Spirit.
12 The same Dogmatic Constitution listed at length"the elements of sanctification and truth" which in various ways arepresent and operative beyond the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church:"For there are many who honour Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm ofbelief and of action, and who show a true religious zeal. They lovingly believein God the Father Almighty and in Christ, Son of God and Saviour. They areconsecrated by Baptism, through which they are united with Christ. They alsorecognize and receive other sacraments within their own Churches or EcclesialCommunities. Many of them rejoice in the episcopate, celebrate the HolyEucharist, and cultivate devotion towards the Virgin Mother of God. They alsoshare with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits. Likewise, we can say thatin some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them alsohe gives his gifts and graces, and is thereby operative among them with hissanctifying power. Some indeed he has strengthened to the extent of the sheddingof their blood. In all of Christ's disciples the Spirit arouses the desire tobe peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock underone shepherd".15
The Council's Decree on Ecumenism, referring to the Orthodox Churches, wentso far as to declare that "through the celebration of the Eucharist of theLord in each of these Churches, the Church of God is built up and grows instature".16 Truth demands that all this be recognized.
13 The same Document carefully draws out the doctrinalimplications of this situation. Speaking of the members of these Communities,it declares: "All those justified by faith through Baptism areincorporated into Christ. They therefore have a right to be honoured by thetitle of Christian, and are properly regarded as brothers and sisters in theLord by the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church".17
With reference to the many positive elements present in the other Churchesand Ecclesial Communities, the Decree adds: "All of these, which come fromChrist and lead back to him, belong by right to the one Church of Christ. Theseparated brethren also carry out many of the sacred actions of the Christianreligion. Undoubtedly, in many ways that vary according to the condition ofeach Church or Community, these actions can truly engender a life of grace, andcan be rightly described as capable of providing access to the community ofsalvation".18
These are extremely important texts for ecumenism. It is not that beyond theboundaries of the Catholic community there is an ecclesial vacuum. Manyelements of great value (eximia), which in the Catholic Church are partof the fullness of the means of salvation and of the gifts of grace which makeup the Church, are also found in the other Christian Communities.
14 All these elements bear within themselves a tendencytowards unity, having their fullness in that unity. It is not a matter ofadding together all the riches scattered throughout the various ChristianCommunities in order to arrive at a Church which God has in mind for thefuture. In accordance with the great Tradition, attested to by the Fathers ofthe East and of the West, the Catholic Church believes that in the PentecostEvent God has already manifested the Church in her eschatologicalreality, which he had prepared "from the time of Abel, the justone".19 This reality is something already given. Consequently weare even now in the last times. The elements of this already-given Church exist,found in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, inthe other Communities,20 where certain features of the Christianmystery have at times been more effectively emphasized. Ecumenism is directedprecisely to making the partial communion existing between Christians growtowards full communion in truth and charity.
15 Passing from principles, from the obligations of theChristian conscience, to the actual practice of the ecumenical journey towardsunity, the Second Vatican Council emphasizes above all the need for interiorconversion. The messianic proclamation that "the time is fulfilled andthe Kingdom of God is at hand", and the subsequent call to "repent,and believe in the Gospel" (Mc 1,15) with which Jesus begins hismission, indicate the essential element of every new beginning: the fundamentalneed for evangelization at every stage of the Church's journey of salvation.This is true in a special way of the process begun by the Second VaticanCouncil, when it indicated as a dimension of renewal the ecumenical task ofuniting divided Christians. "There can be no ecumenism worthy of thename without a change of heart".21
The Council calls for personal conversion as well as for communalconversion. The desire of every Christian Community for unity goes hand in handwith its fidelity to the Gospel. In the case of individuals who live theirChristian vocation, the Council speaks of interior conversion, of a renewal ofmind.22
Each one therefore ought to be more radically converted to the Gospel and,without ever losing sight of God's plan, change his or her way of looking atthings. Thanks to ecumenism, our contemplation of "the mighty works of God"(mirabilia Dei) has been enriched by new horizons, for which the TriuneGod calls us to give thanks: the knowledge that the Spirit is at work in otherChristian Communities, the discovery of examples of holiness, the experience ofthe immense riches present in the communion of saints, and contact withunexpected dimensions of Christian commitment. In a corresponding way, there isan increased sense of the need for repentance: an awareness of certainexclusions which seriously harm fraternal charity, of certain refusals toforgive, of a certain pride, of an unevangelical insistence on condemning the"other side", of a disdain born of an unhealthy presumption. Thus,the entire life of Christians is marked by a concern for ecumenism; and they arecalled to let themselves be shaped, as it were, by that concern.
16 In the teaching of the Second Vatican Council there isa clear connection between renewal, conversion and reform. The Council statesthat "Christ summons the Church, as she goes her pilgrim way, to thatcontinual reformation of which she always has need, insofar as she is aninstitution of human beings here on earth. Therefore, if the influence ofevents or of the times has led to deficiencies ... these should beappropriately rectified at the proper moment".23 No ChristianCommunity can exempt itself from this call.
By engaging in frank dialogue, Communities help one another to look atthemselves together in the light of the Apostolic Tradition. This leads them toask themselves whether they truly express in an adequate way all that the HolySpirit has transmitted through the Apostles.24 With regard to theCatholic Church, I have frequently recalled these obligations and perspectives,as for example on the anniversary of the Baptism of Kievan Rus'25 or in commemorating the eleven hundred years since the evangelizingactivity of Saints Cyril and Methodius.26 More recently, the Directoryfor the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, issued with myapproval by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has appliedthem to the pastoral sphere.27
17 With regard to other Christians, the principaldocuments of the Commission on Faith and Order 28 and thestatements of numerous bilateral dialogues have already provided ChristianCommunities with useful tools for discerning what is necessary to theecumenical movement and to the conversion which it must inspire. These studiesare important from two points of view: they demonstrate the remarkable progressalready made, and they are a source of hope inasmuch as they represent a surefoundation for further study.
The increase of fellowship in a reform which is continuous and carried outin the light of the Apostolic Tradition is certainly, in the presentcircumstances of Christians, one of the distinctive and most important aspectsof ecumenism. Moreover, it is an essential guarantee for its future. Thefaithful of the Catholic Church cannot forget that the ecumenical thrust of theSecond Vatican Council is one consequence of all that the Church at that timecommitted herself to doing in order to re-examine herself in the light of theGospel and the great Tradition. My Predecessor, Pope John XXIII, understood thisclearly: in calling the Council, he refused to separate renewal from ecumenicalopenness.29 At the conclusion of the Council, Pope Paul VI solemnlysealed the Council's commitment to ecumenism, renewing the dialogue of charitywith the Churches in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople, andjoining the Patriarch in the concrete and profoundly significant gesture which"condemned to oblivion" and "removed from memory and from themidst of the Church" the excommunications of the past. It is worthrecalling that the establishment of a special body for ecumenical matterscoincided with the launching of preparations for the Second Vatican Council30 and that through this body the opinions and judgments of the otherChristian Communities played a part in the great debates about Revelation, theChurch, the nature of ecumenism and religious freedom.
18 Taking up an idea expressed by Pope John XXIII at theopening of the Council,31 the Decree on Ecumenism mentions the way offormulating doctrine as one of the elements of a continuing reform.32Here it is not a question of altering the deposit of faith, changing themeaning of dogmas, eliminating essential words from them, accommodating truthto the preferences of a particular age, or suppressing certain articles of the Creedunder the false pretext that they are no longer understood today. The unitywilled by God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content ofrevealed faith in its entirety. In matters of faith, compromise is incontradiction with God who is Truth. In the Body of Christ, "the way, andthe truth, and the life" (Jn 14,6), who could consider legitimate areconciliation brought about at the expense of the truth? The Council'sDeclaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae attributes to humandignity the quest for truth, "especially in what concerns God and hisChurch",33 and adherence to truth's demands. A "beingtogether" which betrayed the truth would thus be opposed both to thenature of God who offers his communion and to the need for truth found in thedepths of every human heart.
19 Even so, doctrine needs to be presented in a way thatmakes it understandable to those for whom God himself intends it. In myEncyclical Epistle Slavorum Apostoli, I recalled that this was the veryreason why Saints Cyril and Methodius laboured to translate the ideas of theBible and the concepts of Greek theology in the context of very differenthistorical experiences and ways of thinking. They wanted the one word of God tobe "made accessible in each civilization's own forms ofexpression".34 They recognized that they could not therefore"impose on the peoples assigned to their preaching either the undeniablesuperiority of the Greek language and Byzantine culture, or the customs and wayof life of the more advanced society in which they had grownup".35 Thus they put into practice that "perfect communion inlove which preserves the Church from all forms of particularism, ethnicexclusivism or racial prejudice, and from any nationalisticarrogance".36 In the same spirit, I did not hesitate to say to theAboriginal Peoples of Australia: "You do not have to be divided into twoparts ... Jesus calls you to accept his words and his values into your ownculture".37 Because by its nature the content of faith is meantfor all humanity, it must be translated into all cultures. Indeed, the elementwhich determines communion in truth is the meaning of truth. Theexpression of truth can take different forms. The renewal of these forms ofexpression becomes necessary for the sake of transmitting to the people oftoday the Gospel message in its unchanging meaning.38
"This renewal therefore has notable ecumenicalsignificance".39 And not only renewal in which the faith isexpressed, but also of the very life of faith. It might therefore be asked: whois responsible for doing this? To this question the Council replies clearly:"Concern for restoring unity pertains to the whole Church, faithful andclergy alike. It extends to everyone, according to the ability of each, whetherit be exercised in daily Christian living or in theological and historicalstudies".40
20 All this is extremely important and of fundamentalsignificance for ecumenical activity. Thus it is absolutely clear thatecumenism, the movement promoting Christian unity, is not just some sort of"appendix" which is added to the Church's traditional activity.Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work, and consequentlymust pervade all that she is and does; it must be like the fruit borne by ahealthy and flourishing tree which grows to its full stature.
This is what Pope John XXIII believed about the unity of the Church and howhe saw full Christian unity. With regard to other Christians, to the greatChristian family, he observed: "What unites us is much greater than whatdivides us". The Second Vatican Council for its part exhorts "allChrist's faithful to remember that the more purely they strive to liveaccording to the Gospel, the more they are fostering and even practisingChristian unity. For they can achieve depth and ease in strengthening mutualbrotherhood to the degree that they enjoy profound communion with the Father,the Word, and the Holy Spirit".41
21 "This change of heart and holiness of life, alongwith public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should beregarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and can rightly becalled 'spiritual ecumenism' ".42
We proceed along the road leading to the conversion of hearts guided by lovewhich is directed to God and, at the same time, to all our brothers andsisters, including those not in full communion with us. Love gives rise to thedesire for unity, even in those who have never been aware of the need for it.Love builds communion between individuals and between Communities. If we loveone another, we strive to deepen our communion and make it perfect. Love isgiven to God as the perfect source of communionmthe unity of Father, Sonand Holy Spiritmthat we may draw from that source the strength to buildcommunion between individuals and Communities, or to re-establish it betweenChristians still divided. Love is the great undercurrent which gives life andadds vigour to the movement towards unity.
This love finds its most complete expression in common prayer. Whenbrothers and sisters who are not in perfect communion with one another cometogether to pray, the Second Vatican Council defines their prayer as thesoul of the whole ecumenical movement. This prayer is "a very effectivemeans of petitioning for the grace of unity", "a genuineexpression of the ties which even now bind Catholics to their separatedbrethren".43 Even when prayer is not specifically offered forChristian unity, but for other intentions such as peace, it actually becomes anexpression and confirmation of unity. The common prayer of Christians is aninvitation to Christ himself to visit the community of those who call upon him:"Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them"(Mt 18,20).
22 When Christians pray together, the goal of unity seemscloser. The long history of Christians marked by many divisions seems toconverge once more because it tends towards that Source of its unity which isJesus Christ. He "is the same yesterday, today and forever!" (He 13,8). In the fellowship of prayer Christ is truly present; he prays "inus", "with us" and "for us". It is he who leads ourprayer in the Spirit-Consoler whom he promised and then bestowed on his Churchin the Upper Room in Jerusalem, when he established her in her original unity.
Along the ecumenical path to unity, pride of place certainly belongs to commonprayer, the prayerful union of those who gather together around Christhimself. If Christians, despite their divisions, can grow ever more united incommon prayer around Christ, they will grow in the awareness of how littledivides them in comparison to what unites them. If they meet more often andmore regularly before Christ in prayer, they will be able to gain the courageto face all the painful human reality of their divisions, and they will findthemselves together once more in that community of the Church which Christconstantly builds up in the Holy Spirit, in spite of all weaknesses and humanlimitations.
23 Finally, fellowship in prayer leads people to lookat the Church and Christianity in a new way. It must not be forgotten infact that the Lord prayed to the Father that his disciples might be one, sothat their unity might bear witness to his mission and the world would believethat the Father had sent him (cf. Jn Jn 17,21). It can be said that theecumenical movement in a certain sense was born out of the negative experienceof each one of those who, in proclaiming the one Gospel, appealed to his ownChurch or Ecclesial Community. This was a contradiction which could not escapethose who listened to the message of salvation and found in this fact anobstacle to acceptance of the Gospel. Regrettably, this grave obstacle has notbeen overcome. It is true that we are not yet in full communion. And yet,despite our divisions, we are on the way towards full unity, that unity whichmarked the Apostolic Church at its birth and which we sincerely seek. Ourcommon prayer, inspired by faith, is proof of this. In that prayer, we gathertogether in the name of Christ who is One. He is our unity.
"Ecumenical" prayer is at the service of the Christian missionand its credibility. It must thus be especially present in the life of theChurch and in every activity aimed at fostering Christian unity. It is as if weconstantly need to go back and meet in the Upper Room of Holy Thursday, eventhough our presence together in that place will not be perfect until theobstacles to full ecclesial communion are overcome and all Christians cangather together in the common celebration of the Eucharist.44
24 It is a source of joy to see that the many ecumenicalmeetings almost always include and indeed culminate in prayer. The Week ofPrayer for Christian Unity, celebrated in January or, in some countries,around Pentecost, has become a widespread and well established tradition. Butthere are also many other occasions during the year when Christians are led topray together. In this context, I wish to mention the special experience of thePope's pilgrimages to the various Churches in the different continentsand countries of the present-day oikoumene. I am very conscious that itwas the Second Vatican Council which led the Pope to exercise his apostolicministry in this particular way. Even more can be said. The Council made thesevisits of the Pope a specific responsibility in carrying out the role of theBishop of Rome at the service of communion.45 My visits have almost alwaysincluded an ecumenical meeting and common prayer with our brothers andsisters who seek unity in Christ and in his Church. With profound emotion Iremember praying together with the Primate of the Anglican Communion atCanterbury Cathedral (29 May 1982); in that magnificent edifice, I saw "aneloquent witness both to our long years of common inheritance and to the sadyears of division that followed".46 Nor can I forget themeetings held in the Scandinavian and Nordic Countries (1-10 June 1989), inNorth and South America and in Africa, and at the headquarters of the WorldCouncil of Churches (12 June 1984), the organization committed to calling itsmember Churches and Ecclesial Communities "to the goal of visible unity inone faith and in one Eucharistic fellowship expressed in worship and in commonlife in Christ".47 And how could I ever forget taking part in theEucharistic Liturgy in the Church of Saint George at the EcumenicalPatriarchate (30 November 1979), and the service held in Saint Peter's Basilicaduring the visit to Rome of my Venerable Brother, Patriarch Dimitrios I (6December 1987)? On that occasion, at the Altar of the Confession, we recitedtogether the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed according to its original Greek text.It is hard to describe in a few words the unique nature of each of theseoccasions of prayer. Given the differing ways in which each of these meetingswas conditioned by past events, each had its own special eloquence. They haveall become part of the Church's memory as she is guided by the Paraclete toseek the full unity of all believers in Christ.
25 It is not just the Pope who has become a pilgrim. Inrecent years, many distinguished leaders of other Churches and EcclesialCommunities have visited me in Rome, and I have been able to join them inprayer, both in public and in private. I have already mentioned the visit ofthe Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I. I would now like to recall the prayermeeting, also held in Saint Peter's Basilica, at which I joined the LutheranArchbishops, the Primates of Sweden and Finland, for the celebration of Vesperson the occasion of the Sixth Centenary of the Canonization of Saint Birgitta (5October 1991). This is just one example, because awareness of the duty to prayfor unity has become an integral part of the Church's life. There is noimportant or significant event which does not benefit from Christians comingtogether and praying. It is impossible for me to give a complete list of suchmeetings, even though each one deserves to be mentioned. Truly the Lord hastaken us by the hand and is guiding us. These exchanges and these prayers havealready written pages and pages of our "Book of unity", a"Book" which we must constantly return to and re-read so as to drawfrom it new inspiration and hope.
26 Prayer, the community at prayer, enables us always todiscover anew the evangelical truth of the words: "You have one Father"(Mt 23,9), the FathermAbbaminvoked by Christ himself, the Only-begottenand Consubstantial Son. And again: "You have one teacher, and youare all brethren" (Mt 23,8). "Ecumenical" prayerdiscloses this fundamental dimension of brotherhood in Christ, who died togather together the children of God who were scattered, so that in becoming"sons and daughters in the Son" (cf. Eph Ep 1,5) we might showforth more fully both the mysterious reality of God's fatherhood and the truthabout the human nature shared by each and every individual.
"Ecumenical" prayer, as the prayer of brothers and sisters,expresses all this. Precisely because they are separated from one another, theymeet in Christ with all the more hope, entrusting to him the futureof their unity and their communion. Here too we can appropriately apply theteaching of the Council: "The Lord Jesus, when he prayed to the Father 'thatall may be one ... as we are one' (Jn 17,21-22), opened upvistas closed to human reason. For he implied a certain likeness between theunion of the Divine Persons, and the union of God's children in truth andcharity".48
The change of heart which is the essential condition for every authenticsearch for unity flows from prayer and its realization is guided by prayer:"For it is from newness of attitudes, from self-denial and unstinted love,that yearnings for unity take their rise and grow towards maturity. We shouldtherefore pray to the divine Spirit for the grace to be genuinelyself-denying, humble, gentle in the service of others, and to have an attitudeof brotherly generosity towards them".49
27 Praying for unity is not a matter reserved only tothose who actually experience the lack of unity among Christians. In the deeppersonal dialogue which each of us must carry on with the Lord in prayer,concern for unity cannot be absent. Only in this way, in fact, will thatconcern fully become part of the reality of our life and of the commitments wehave taken on in the Church. It was in order to reaffirm this duty that I setbefore the faithful of the Catholic Church a model which I consider exemplary,the model of a Trappistine Sister, Blessed Maria Gabriella of Unity,whom I beatified on 25 January 1983.50 Sister Maria Gabriella, calledby her vocation to be apart from the world, devoted her life to meditation andprayer centered on chapter seventeen of Saint John's Gospel, and offered herlife for Christian unity. This is truly the cornerstone of all prayer: thetotal and unconditional offering of one's life to the Father, through the Son, inthe Holy Spirit. The example of Sister Maria Gabriella is instructive; it helpsus to understand that there are no special times, situations or places ofprayer for unity. Christ's prayer to the Father is offered as a model foreveryone, always and everywhere.
Ut unum sint