Baptized by one Spirit into one body
Tuesday morning, 18 January, the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian
Unity, the Holy Father presided at an Ecumenical Celebration at the Basilica of
St. Paul-Outside-the- Walls and opened the Holy Door of the fourth and last of
Rome's patriarchal basilicas. Joining the Pope in opening the Holy Door were
Metropolitan Athanasios of Heliopolis and Thera, representing the Ecumenical
Patriarch, and Dr George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of
the Anglican Communion. Representatives of over 20 Christian Churches and
Ecclesial Communities also attended.
During the service the Pope preached on the theme of Christian unity:
"If, sustained by prayer, we can renew our minds and hearts, the dialogue
we are pursuing will eventually go beyond the limits of an exchange of ideas and
become an exchange of gifts, a dialogue of love and truth which challenges and
urges us to move ahead in order to offer God 'the greatest sacrifice', which is
our peace and fraternal harmony (cf. St Cyprian, De Dom. orat., n.
After the Holy Father's homily an embrace of peace was exchanged as the choir
sang Ubi caritas. The celebration concluded with the recitation of the
Apostles' Creed in Greek, Latin and German, the singing of the Lord's Prayer and
the Holy Father's blessing.
Here is a translation of the Pope's homily, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
1. Paul's words to the community of Corinth, "by one Spirit we were
all baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12:13), seem to form a
counterpoint to Christ's prayer "As you, Father, are in me, and I in
you, I pray that they may be one in us" (Jn 17:21).
Christ's prayer for unity! It is the prayer he addressed to the Father just
before his passion and death. Despite our resistance, it continues to bear
fruit, although mysteriously. Does not the grace of the "ecumenical
movement" flow from this prayer? As the Second Vatican Council affirms:
"The Lord of ages ... in recent times has begun to bestow more generously
upon divided Christians remorse and a longing for unity", so that there
"increases from day to day a movement, fostered by the grace of the Holy
Spirit, for the restoration of unity among a Christians" (Unitatis
redintegratio, n. 1). We were and are witnesses to this. We have all
been enriched by the grace of the Spirit who guides our steps towards unity and
full, visible communion.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins today in Rome with the
celebration that has gathered us together. I wanted it to coincide with the
opening of the Holy Door in this basilica dedicated to the Apostle of the
Gentiles, to stress the ecumenical dimension that should mark the Jubilee Year
2000. At the beginning of a new Christian millennium, in this year of grace that
invites us to be converted more radically to the Gospel, we must turn
with more heartfelt prayer to the Spirit, imploring the grace of our unity.
Baptism is sacramental bond of unity
"Baptized by one Spirit into one body": gathered in the
basilica that bears Paul's name, we, representatives of different peoples and
nations, of various Churches and Ecclesial Communities, feel directly challenged
by these words of the Apostle of the Gentiles. We know we are brothers and
sisters who are still divided, but we have set out with firm conviction on the
path that leads to the full unity of Christ's Body.
2. Dear brothers and sisters, welcome to you all! I offer each of you the
embrace of peace in the Lord who has gathered us together, as I cordially thank
you for your presence, which I deeply appreciate. In each of you I would like to
greet with a "holy kiss" (Rom 16:16) all the members of the various
Churches and Ecclesial Communities that you worthily represent.
Welcome to this gathering, which marks another step towards the unity of the
Spirit in whom "we have been baptized". The Baptism we have
received is one. It brings about a sacramental bond of unity among all who have
been reborn through it. A purifying water, the water of life", it enables
us to pass through the one "door" which is Christ: "I am the
door; if any one enters by me, he wilt be saved" (Jn 10:9). Christ is the
door of our salvation, which leads to reconciliation, to peace and to unity. He
is the light of the world (cf. Jn 8:12) and we, in conforming perfectly to him,
are called to bring this light into the new century and the new millennium.
All form one body through the Holy Spirit
The humble symbol of a door which opens bears in itself an extraordinary
wealth of meaning: it proclaims to all that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth
and the Life (Jn 14:6). He is such for every human being. The more united we
are, being recognized as disciples of Christ by loving one another as he has
loved us (cf. Jn 13:35; 15:12), the more effective this proclamation will be.
The Second Vatican Council has fittingly recalled that division openly
contradicts Christ's will, scandalizes the world and damages that most holy
cause, the preaching of the Gospel to every creature (Unitatis redintegratio,
3. The unity desired by Jesus for his disciples is a sharing in the unity he
has with the Father and which the Father has with him. "As you, Father, are
in me, and I in you", he said at the Last Supper, "may they be one in
us" (Jn 17:21). Consequently, the Church, "a people made one in the
unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (St Cyprian, De Dom.
orat., 23), cannot fad to look constantly at that supreme model and
principle of unity which is resplendent in the Trinitarian mystery.
The Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit are one in the distinction of
Persons. Faith teaches us that, by the power of the Spirit, the Son became
incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man (Creed). At the gates of
Damascus Paul has, in the power of the Spirit, a most extraordinary experience
of the incarnate, crucified and risen Christ and becomes the Apostle of the One
who "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the
likeness of men" (Phil 2:7).
When he writes: "by one Spirit we were all baptized into one
body", he means to express his faith in the Incarnation of the
Son of God and to reveal the particular analogy of Christ's body: the analogy
between the body of the God-man, a physical body through which our redemption
was wrought, and his mystical and social body, which is the Church. Christ fives
in her, making himself present through the Holy Spirit in all who form one body
4. Can a body be divided? Can the Church, the Body of Christ, be divided?
Ever since the first Councils, Christians have together professed "one,
holy, catholic and apostolic" Church. They know, with Paul, that there is
one body, one Spirit and one hope to which all are called: "One Lord, one
faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through
all and in all" (Eph 4:5-6).
In contrast to this mystery of unity, which is a gift from above, the
divisions bear a historical character that attests to the human weaknesses of
Christians. The Second Vatican Council recognized that divisions arose "for
which, often enough, people on both sides were to blame" (Unitatis
redintegratio, n. 3). In this year of grace, each of us must have a
greater awareness of his own personal responsibility regarding the breaches that
have marked the history of Christ's Mystical. Body. This awareness is
indispensable if we are to advance towards that goal which the Council described
as unitatis redintegratio, the restoration of our unity.
But unity cannot be restored without inner conversion, because the desire for
unity is born and grows from the renewal of mind, the love of truth, self-denial
and the free outpouring of love. Thus: conversion of heart and holiness of life,
with personal and community prayer for unity, are the nucleus from which the
ecumenical movement draws its strength and substance.
Evangelization depends on ecumenical commitment
The longing for unity goes hand in hand with a profound ability to
"sacrifice" what is personal, in order to dispose the soul to ever
greater fidelity to the Gospel. Preparing ourselves for the sacrifice of
unity means changing our viewpoint, broadening our horizons, knowing how to
recognize the action of the Holy Spirit who is at work in our brethren,
discovering new dimensions of holiness and opening ourselves to fresh aspects of
If, sustained by prayer, we can renew our minds and hearts, the dialogue we
are pursuing will eventually go beyond the limits of an exchange of ideas and
become an exchange of gifts, a dialogue of love and truth which challenges and
urges us to move ahead in order to offer God "the greatest sacrifice",
which is our peace and fraternal harmony (cf. St Cyprian, De Dom. orat., n.
5. In this basilica built in honour of Paul, remembering the words with which
the Apostle today has challenged our faith and our hope, "by one Spirit
we were all baptized into one body", let us ask Christ to forgive
everything in the Church's history which has compromised his plan of unity. Let
us confidently ask him, the door of life, the door of salvation, the door of
peace, to support our steps, to make the progress already achieved
long-lasting, to grant us the support of his Spirit, so that our commitment will
be ever more authentic and effective.
Dear brothers and sisters, my wish at this solemn moment is that the year of
grace 2000 will be an opportunity for all of Christ's disciples to give new
impetus to the ecumenical commitment and to welcome it as a demand of the
Christian conscience. The future of evangelization, the proclamation of the
Gospel to the men and women of our time, greatly depends on this.
From this basilica, which today sees us gathered together with hope-filled
hearts, I look ahead to the new millennium. The wish that flows from my heart
and becomes a fervent entreaty before the throne of the eternal Father is that,
in the not too distant future, Christians will at last be reconciled and be able
to walk together again as one people obedient to the Father's plan, a people who
can repeat with one voice and in the joy of renewed brotherhood: "Blessed
be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with
all the spiritual blessings in the heavens" (Eph 1:3).
May the Lord Jesus hear our prayers and our ardent plea. Amen!
"Unitate, unitate"! This cry which I heard during my visit to
Bucharest comes back to me like a loud echo. "Unitate, unitate", shouted
the people gathered for the Eucharistic celebration: all Christians, Catholics,
Orthodox and Evangelical Protestants were chanting together: "Unitate,
unitate". Thank you for this call, this comforting call of our brothers
and sisters. Perhaps we too can leave this basilica crying out like them: "Unita,
unita; Unite, Unity". Thank you.