Christian Cooperation Key to Proclaiming the Gospel, Pope Says

ROME (CNS) — Christians must work together to offer the faith they share to a world that seems to find it more and more difficult to believe, Pope Benedict XVI told Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant leaders.

“Unity is in itself a privileged means — almost a requirement — for proclaiming the faith in an increasingly credible way to those who do not yet know the Savior or who, having received the proclamation of the Gospel, have almost forgotten this precious gift,” Pope Benedict said on 25 January.

Presiding over an evening prayer service at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the pope said that, even as divided Christians continue their theological dialogues in the search for full unity, “It is necessary to pursue concrete collaboration among the disciples of Christ on behalf of the cause of transmitting the faith to the modern world.

“In today’s society, it seems that the Christian message has a diminishing impact on personal and community life, and this represents a challenge for all churches and ecclesial communities,” Pope Benedict said in his homily at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

The key to meeting the challenge, the pope said, is for Christians to pray to God for the gift of unity and step up their efforts at “reconciliation, dialogue and mutual understanding.”

“Communion in the same faith is the basis for ecumenism,” he said.

During the Year of Faith, which the pope established to encourage Catholics to study the basic tenets of their faith and strengthen their religious practice and witness, he said Christians should recognize and give thanks for their shared faith in God, in Jesus as savior and in the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies and continues to give life to the church.

“Without faith — which primarily is a gift of God, but is also a response of man — the whole ecumenical movement would be reduced to a form of ‘contract’ to which we adhere out of our common interests,” he said.

Instead, ecumenism itself is an expression of faith in Jesus, who prayed that his disciples would be one, the pope said.

The theme — “What does God require of us?” — and reflections for the 2013 week of prayer were developed by Christians in India, working with the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The material highlighted the believers’ biblical obligation “to do justice, love goodness and walk humbly with God.”

“True faith in God is inseparable from personal holiness, just as it is inseparable from the search for justice,” the pope said.

He prayed for Christians in India, “who sometimes are called to witness to their faith in difficult circumstances,” and he said that while walking humbly with God means trusting God completely, “it also means walking beyond the barriers, hatred, racism and social and religious discrimination that divide and damage the whole society.”

Pope Benedict offered special greetings during the prayer service to members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, which include the Armenian Apostolic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox and Syro-Malankara churches.

Meeting commission members earlier in the day, the pope said many of the Oriental Orthodox faithful live in areas “where Christians, as individuals and communities, face painful trials and difficulties which are a source of deep concern to us all.”

The pope asked the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox leaders to convey to their faithful in the Middle East his prayers that “this land, so important in God’s plan of salvation, may be led, through constructive dialogue and cooperation, to a future of justice and lasting peace.”

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