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Pope at Ecumenical Vespers: ‘Christian journey to unity rooted in prayer’

By Devin Watkins

“Only a love that becomes gratuitous service, only the love that Jesus taught and embodied, will bring separated Christians closer to one another.”

Pope Francis offered that invitation on Thursday evening in his homily at an ecumenical Evening Prayer service held in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

At the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Pope joined the heads and representatives of various Churches for Vespers, including Metropolitan Polycarp of Italy, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

As a sign of Christian Unity, Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican Communion, sent out pairs of Catholic and Anglican Bishops.

The Bishops are taking part in the ecumenical summit “Growing Together” in Rome and Canterbury, and were commissioned by the Pope and the Archbishop to “continuing to testify to the unity willed by God for his Church in their respective regions”.

Love of neighbour

In his homily, Pope Francis recalled that division never comes from God, but only from the devil.

He reflected on the passage in Luke’s Gospel (10:25-37) in which a scholar of the law asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.

The man asks a follow-up question to Jesus’ affirmation of the importance of loving God and neighbour: “And who is my neighbour?”

With the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus sidestepped the scholar’s divisive question, said the Pope, noting that he was considered a heretic by the priest and the Levite who failed to offer aid to the wounded man.

“Only love which does not appeal to the past in order to remain aloof or to point a finger,” said Pope Francis, “only that love which in God’s name puts our brothers and sisters before the ironclad defense of our own religious structures will unite us.”

Pope Francis with Metropolitan Polycarp (L) and Archbishop Welby (R)

Jesus is our true inheritance

Instead of asking who our neighbour is, we should ask “Do I act like a neighbour?” said the Pope, adding that everyone in this world is our brothers and sisters.

He invited Christians to consider whether their personal and communal spirituality is founded in self-interest or in human fraternity and the cohesion of the Body of Christ.

Turning to the scholar of the law’s first question to Jesus—“What must I do to inherit eternal life”—Pope Francis said St. Paul asks simply “What am I to do, Lord” at his conversion.

Already at that moment, Paul left out of his question the issue of inheritance because he knew that Jesus was his only true inheritance.

“If God is our treasure, our ecclesial plan of action must surely consist in doing His will, in fulfilling His desires,” said the Pope.

Prayer for unity and peace

Our efforts to journey toward Christian unity must follow the same route as St. Paul, turning away from our own ideas and giving God the space to take the initiative to convert our hearts.

“This is the path before us: journeying together and serving together, giving priority of place to prayer,” said the Holy Father. “For when Christians grow in the service of God and neighbour, we also grow in reciprocal understanding.”

In conclusion, Pope Francis said Christians already have the answer to St. Paul’s question about what we are to do, which is prayer.

Prayer for unity, he said, “is a sacred responsibility, because it means being in communion with the Lord, who prayed above all to the Father for unity.”

As we pray together, concluded Pope Francis, Christians must never forget to pray for an end to wars, especially in Ukraine and the Holy Land.

“Let us get up in the name of Christ from our tired routine and set out anew,” said the Pope, “for He wills it ‘so that the world may believe’.”

Celebration of Second Vespers

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