Prayer Service for Christian Unity 2012 at St. Mary’s, the Causeway, Horsham
In July 1995 I was ordained a deacon in the Arundel & Brighton parish of Christ the Prince of Peace in Weybridge. It was an ecumenical occasion in that there were many visitors from other churches, not only because I had been baptised and brought up in the Church of England, but because Weybridge seemed to a very ecumenical place. Mgr Benny O’Shea, the parish priest at the time, had a theory for this. The churches in Weybridge get on so well together because all their members play golf and vote Conservative.
Things in common seem to be a very important part of our journey to Christian unity. Shared culture, shared concerns, shared contributions to society and community: these are surely significant. But sometimes we can be sidetracked by those shared things (which are important but superficial) so that we cease to engage in the dialogue which is more demanding and even painful and which will ultimately bear more fruit. Indeed, the rich diversity of difference in a community like St John’s would be considered as one of our greatest strengths.
Two months before my ordination Blessed Pope John Paul II had issued his Encyclical Ut unim sint, May they all be one. The encyclical is the highest and most weighty form of personal papal written teaching. John Paul had set the business of Christian unity as one of his priorities of the pontificate in the early 1980s. Now his thoughts were chrystalised in that authoritative document which set the course afresh for Christian unity as a priority for the Catholic Church. This demand springs from the pope’s own commitment to that dialogue between people of good will which, if neglected, becomes more of a battle for ideas. In his experience this had been a real battle, fort out, not in the lecture theatre but on the streets of his occupied city of Krakow; the regimes of fascism and atheistic communism had sort either to replace God or build a society without God. The consequences were desperate, the cost was horrific, the legacy is lasting.
The moving sight of John Paul II arriving at the church of the Gesu in Rome to sing Te Deum in thanksgiving for the old year 1992 was my first meeting with the pope we now call Blessed. My last sight of him was on looking up at the window of the apostolic palace on Easter Wednesday 2005, three days before his death. He struggled desperately to speak to us and bless us. My 1992 had led to tough decisions about my on journey of faith, and the shadow of Peter in affecting strength and unaffected simplicity falling on me had, I believe, helped me to make those decisions. But the experience of the Church preparing to bid farewell to Il Papa, the Polish Pope had demonstrated again to the world that the desperate weakness of old men who have lived with the weakness and suffering, the doubts and the fears of so many for so long becomes the bright light of a better future.
Pope Benedict spoke at his audience on Wednesday about Christian unity.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which begins today invites all the Lord’s followers to implore the gift of unity. This year’s theme – We Will All Be Changed By The Victory Of Our Lord Jesus Christ – was chosen by representatives of the Catholic Church and the Polish Ecumenical Council. Poland’s experience of oppression and persecution prompts a deeper reflection on the meaning of Christ’s victory over sin and death, a victory in which we share through faith. By his teaching, his example and his paschal mystery, the Lord has shown us the way to a victory obtained not by power, but by love and concern for those in need. Faith in Christ and interior conversion, both individual and communal, must constantly accompany our prayer for Christian unity. During this Week of Prayer, let us ask the Lord in a particular way to strengthen the faith of all Christians, to change our hearts and to enable us to bear united witness to the Gospel. In this way we will contribute to the new evangelization and respond ever more fully to the spiritual hunger of the men and women of our time.