Ecumenical Vespers at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Jan. 25, 2021. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/ Vatican Pool.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity concluded yesterday with Vespers at the tomb of St. Paul.
Pope Francis was unable to attend the evening prayer 25 January at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls due to a resurgence of sciatic nerve pain, but the pope’s prepared homily for the occasion was read by Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
“Dear brothers and sisters, may we remain united in Christ. May the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts, make us feel like children of the Father, brothers and sisters of one another, brothers and sisters in our one human family. May the Holy Trinity, the communion of love, make us grow in unity,” Koch said.
On the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, the cardinal venerated St. Paul’s relics alongside the vicar archbishop of the Romanian Orthodox diocese of Italy, Atanasie Rusnac, and Anglican Archbishop Ian Ernest, the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
The Church dedicates one week each January to prayer for unity among all Christians. The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was “abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit.”
In his prepared homily, the pope wrote that “we can grow and bear fruit only if we remain united to Jesus.”
“In today’s fast-paced and complex world, it is easy to lose our compass, pulled as we are from every side. Many people feel internally fragmented, unable to find a fixed point, a stable footing, amid life’s changes. Jesus tells us that the secret of stability is to abide in him,” Cardinal Koch read.
“Jesus also showed us how to abide in him. He left us his own example: each day he withdrew to pray in deserted places. We need prayer, as we need water, to live. Personal prayer, spending time with Jesus, adoration, these are essential if we are to abide in him. In this way, we can place our worries, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows in the Lord’s heart. Most of all, centred on Jesus in prayer, we can experience his love.”
Pope Francis’ homily stated that the Holy Spirit desires to restore unity and inspires “gratuitousness, to love even those who do not love us in return.”
He wrote: “The Spirit blows where he wills, and everywhere he wants to restore unity. He impels us to love not only those who love us and think as we do, but to love everyone, even as Jesus taught us.”
“He enables us to forgive our enemies and the wrongs we have endured. He inspires us to be active and creative in love. He reminds us that our neighbours are not only those who share our own values and ideas and that we are called to be neighbours to all, good Samaritans to a humanity that is frail, poor and, in our own time, suffering so greatly.”
Pope Francis asked all Christians to pray for “the gift of unity” during his general audience livestream last Wednesday.
“During this time of serious hardship, this prayer is even more necessary so that unity might prevail over conflicts. It is urgent that we set aside preferences to promote the common good, and so our good example is fundamental: it is essential that Christians pursue the path toward full visible unity,” the pope said Jan. 20.
“The world will not believe because we will have convinced it with good arguments, but because we will have borne witness to that love that unites us and draws us near to everyone,” he said.