By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The search for Christian unity “is not a linear process,” because as churches resolve their past differences, differing approaches to new questions create new difficulties, Pope Benedict XVI said.
During his weekly general audience Jan. 20 — in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity — the pope said the unity that Jesus wants for his disciples will require human effort and conversion, but ultimately it will be a gift of God for which people must pray.
Discussing the ecumenical landscape, the pope said, “we must be aware, on the one hand, of how much real progress has been made in Christian collaboration and fraternity over the past 50 years, but at the same time, we know that ecumenical work is not a linear process. Old problems, born in the context of another age, lose their weight, while in our own context new problems and difficulties are born.”
Pope Benedict did not list the new problems, but in the past he has noted how the approach of different Christian communities to modern moral and social sensitivities has created new divisions, for instance when they have led some churches to ordain women or to recognize homosexual unions.
The new divisions, he said, call on all Christians “to be always ready for a process of purification, through which the Lord will make us ready to be united.”
Christians will never be able to give a united witness to the world until each of them is united to Christ, he said.
Ecumenism does require intellectual effort and theological dialogue, but even more it requires Christians who know and experience the love of God through Jesus and are prepared to share the Gospel with the world, he said.
The commitment to dialogue, despite new problems and tensions, is a sign of Christians’ intense desire for unity, he said, but it is not enough.
A new, united church constructed with human hands and minds, the pope said, “would be something human, while we want the church of God, made by God. God will create unity when he wills, when we are prepared.”
Pope Benedict asked God to listen to all Christians, who plead especially intensely for unity during the Jan. 18-25 Week of Prayer.
Participating in the audience were members of the Continuation Committee of Ecumenism in the 21st Century, a body convoked by the World Council of Churches and made up of representatives of 15 Christian communities, including the Catholic Church. The committee is working to help the ecumenical movement evaluate its past achievements and identify paths forward in the search for unity.
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