Bishop Brian Farrell
DUBLIN, Ireland, 23 JAN. 2007 (ZENIT)
Here is the first part of a
homily delivered on Thursday in Dublin by Bishop Brian Farrell,
secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, at
the opening of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
(Part 2 of the homily will appear on Wednesday)
* * *
Every time the baptized come together to pray, it is the Spirit who
guides them and teaches them how to pray. It is the same Spirit who
builds the Church's unity. Naturally, people have been praying for the
unity of Christ's followers since the beginning.
Christians who take to heart the 17th chapter of John's Gospel know that
things are not as they should be and that the scandal of division
weakens the proclamation of the Gospel; they know that the ecumenical
movement is not a luxury in the life of the Church. We cannot separate
our following of Christ from our passion for the unity of the Body of
Christ that is the Church.
This year, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is 99 years old.
Ninety-nine years ago, Father Paul Watson, an Anglican priest and
co-founder of the Society of the Atonement, introduced a Prayer Octave
for Christian Unity that was celebrated for the first time Jan. 18-25,
Unity for Father Watson meant a "return" to the Roman Catholic Church,
hence the symbolic dates of the feast of the Chair of Peter, which at
that time was celebrated Jan. 18, and the feast of the Conversion of St.
Paul on Jan. 25. This is usually regarded as the beginning of the week
as we know it today.
In 1936, a pioneer of ecumenism in French Catholicism, the Abbé Paul
Couturier, brought in a new interpretation of the Unity Octave, when he
saw that the idea of "return" made it difficult for many Christians to
join with Catholics in prayer. He began what he called the "Universal
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity," keeping the same dates of Jan.
18-25, but urging people to pray for the unity of the Church "as Christ
wills it." That is what we are here for this evening: to pray together
for the unity, the full communion, of all the baptized, in the way and
at the time that the Lord, through the work of the Holy Spirit, will
The scriptural theme of this year's week of prayer is taken from the
story in Mark's Gospel [7:31-37] of the healing of the man who was deaf
and had a speech impediment. Jesus looks up to heaven, sighs and says, "Ephphata
be opened," and the man can hear and speak. "He makes the deaf hear and
the mute speak."
Jesus brings the person back to his normal condition, in which he can,
without hindrance, seek his fulfillment in contact and communion with
others. The cured man becomes a symbol of a healed and reconciled
humanity, capable of cherishing and practicing all those values and
qualities that make life a reflection of the inner life of God himself:
communication, harmony, solidarity, love, justice and peace.
But who decides the theme for each year? The process starts at the local
level in a different country each year. In this way, Christians around
the world pray out of the real-life experience of people trying to meet
the challenges of a particular situation. For last year's week of
prayer, an ecumenical group gathered here in Ireland with the help of
Father Brendan Leahy, and sponsored by the Irish episcopal conference,
suggested the theme of Christ present wherever his followers gather to
Why that theme? The decades of sectarian violence had sharpened many
people's sense of the inadequacy of every merely political effort to
bring about reconciliation. Christians belonging to different traditions
had discovered the power of prayer to bring them together beyond every
boundary: "Where two or three gather in my name, there I am in their
midst" [Matthew 18:18-20].
This year the inspiration comes from South Africa, specifically from
Umlazi, near Durban. Umlazi is a "township," one of those segregated
areas in which the black population was forced to live during the
apartheid era. Umlazi is a place of unemployment and poverty, with all
that goes with that in terms of privation in health care, housing,
education, social cohesion, and hope. It, and other townships like it,
are places where the HIV/AIDS tragedy has reached pandemic levels, with
more than 50% of the population infected.
But there is a tragedy within the tragedy. "Ubunqunu" in the local
language means something like being uncovered, "nakedness," and it
refers to all those things that people do not ever talk about. There is
a code of silence surrounding certain aspects of life.
There is a code of silence surrounding AIDS. It is a stigmatized
disease. When they can no longer hide the symptoms, people retire to
their huts and are seldom seen again. They do not seek help. Their
families no longer mention them. South Africa as a country is only
slowly coming to admit publicly that there is a problem.
The Churches in South Africa are working together to overcome this code
of silence that leads to death. They have developed ecumenical prayer
services, with "breaking the code of silence" as the central theme.
Through prayer, people, especially young people, are given the
confidence and courage to "speak the unspeakable."
At the heart of the materials prepared for this year's prayer for
Christian unity you will hear an urgent call to "break the silence." In
every culture there are enormous unmet needs: The poor, the sick, the
homeless, the refugee and the outcast, are our neighbors. Injustice,
discrimination, violence, even slavery, take their toll on the streets
of Dublin, as they do in every city of our sin-marked world.
The deaf and dumb man of St. Mark's Gospel stands for all of us,
individually and collectively. As in the case of the man who could
neither hear nor speak, if the Lord loosens our tongues, our ability to
understand and to speak out, in truth and honesty, would surely be a
blessing for our society.
But note that Jesus first heals the man's inability to hear: Ephphata
be opened! Surely what Jesus wants is not just that the man be able to
hear the sound of words, but that he be able to listen to those around
him. It is not "hearing" but "listening" that creates bonds of
communication and communion, and therefore makes possible that unity of
purpose without which no problem can be faced and managed.
In the materials offered by the people of Umlazi there is a prayer to
break the silence, and it says: "Open our ears that we might hear the
voices muffled by the trials and suffering of the transient world." If
we listen to this cry in our hearts and in our consciences we may become
better people, more committed followers of the Jesus who alone has the
words of eternal life, who can teach us what it means to be genuinely
human in a very dehumanized world.
However, there is something else to be learned from the people of Umlazi.
In their severe deprivation and in their anguish for the AIDS pandemic,
they look to the Churches for light and support. And what do they see?
Let me read their own words: "In Umlazi, there is one courthouse, one
hospital, one post office, one clinic, one set of shops, and one
cemetery reflecting one overwhelming challenge facing the people. In
this same township, the people, almost all of whom are Christian, adhere
to scriptures which profess that there is one body, one Spirit, one
hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all
[cf. Ephesians 4:4-6].
"Yet there are many churches, which are not in full communion with each
other, and which remain a sign of divided Christianity. In Umlazi, there
is an impatience and frustration with inherited divisions generated many
centuries ago in other lands."
The sin and the scandal of division tear at the very heart of God's
people. Our divisions run deep, and all our Churches are wounded and in
need of conversion, purification and healing. That is what we are here
for this evening. ZE07012325
Bishop Brian Farrell
DUBLIN, Ireland, 23 JAN. 2007 (ZENIT)
Here is Part 2 a homily
delivered Thursday in Dublin by Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. It came at the opening
of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Part 1 appeared Tuesday.
* * *
What hope for ecumenism?
Clearly, the search for Christian unity will be long and difficult. So
where do we stand? Believe me, we are not in an ecumenical winter, as
some say. This past year alone has seen one important ecumenical event
after another; the theological dialogues have gone on, with many good
results; visits and meetings between the heads of Churches have been
continuous; more and more people and local communities are taking part
in what is now referred to as "spiritual ecumenism." Let me speak only
of some of the things that I have personally experienced, and limited to
this past year.
The general assembly of the [World Council of Churches] in Porto Alegre,
Brazil, in February 2006, brought together more than three hundred
different churches from practically all Christian traditions; the
International Catholic-Orthodox Theological dialogue in Belgrade in
September; the theological dialogue with the Ancient Oriental-Orthodox
Churches (Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic Church, the Syrian
Orthodox Church, the Malankara Church, the Ethiopian and Eritrean
There are continuous contacts, meetings and dialogues with practically
all the Christian World Communions. The [Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity] is directly involved in twelve official
dialogues with Churches and ecclesial communities at the international
level, and takes part in many other meetings and activities of
Official international delegations to visit Benedict XVI: from the World
Alliance of Reformed Churches; from the Lutheran Church of Finland, of
Norway, of Sweden; from the World Methodist Council; the Lutheran World
Federation; the visit of the archbishop of Canterbury; the archbishop of
Athens and All Greece. As every year there was an exchange of
delegations between the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch, at the end of
June for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the patron saints of Rome,
and at the end of November for the feast of St. Andrew, the patron saint
of Constantinople. Except that this year the Catholic delegation to
Constantinople was led by Pope Benedict himself.
People want to see results from all this activity. But the communion we
seek is neither a question of Church diplomacy nor of strategic
agreements made in ecclesiastical back-rooms. In its original sense it
has to do with "participation," having a part in, sharing in God's gift
of redemption and grace. We are brought into communion
with God and with one another
when we all share in the same grace: one Lord, one baptism, one Spirit,
one Father of all.
And the visible sign of this communion will be as St. Paul describes it
in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17: "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not
a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it
not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is
one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf."
Our ecumenical journey is not towards a mere appearance of unity
towards some sort of ecclesiastical good neighborliness. The communion
we seek has its source, its model and its fulfillment in the very life
of the Trinity. Superficial gestures will not bring about the unity for
which the Lord prayed.
Very often it is the significant though almost imperceptible gesture
that marks the progress being made. Let me give a few examples.
First, that the Patriarch and the Pope exchanged the sign of peace
during the Divine Liturgy itself. Up to now, at the Phanar, this gesture
had always taken place after the celebration itself, given that for our
Orthodox brothers the sign of peace within the liturgy expresses a very
weighty commitment, introduced by the deacon with this exhortation: "Let
us love one another that with one mind we may together make our
profession of faith." And then follows the Creed. This may seem like a
small thing; but it has much spiritual meaning.
Another important factor: in the common declaration signed by the Pope
and the Patriarch, they recall "the solemn ecclesial act banishing from
memory the ancient anathemas which for centuries have had a negative
effect on relations between our Churches."
They then go on to say: "We have not yet drawn from this act all the
positive consequences which can flow from it in our progress towards
full unity." They are clearly saying: let us move in very real and
practical ways to eliminate the remaining barriers keeping us apart.
And it is significant that Pope Benedict chose the solemn liturgy at the
Patriarchate to meet head-on one of the major challenges of the
ecumenical journey. In his words: "The issue of the universal service of
Peter and his successors has unfortunately given rise to our differences
of opinion, which we hope to overcome, thanks also to the theological
dialogue which has been recently resumed."
And then with emphasis he renewed a commitment undertaken by Pope John
Paul II: "Pope John Paul extended an invitation to enter into a
fraternal dialogue aimed at identifying ways in which the Petrine
ministry might be exercised today, while respecting its nature and
essence, so as to 'accomplish a service of love recognized by all
concerned' ['Ut Unum Sint,' 95]. It is my desire today to recall and
renew this invitation."
The journey towards full communion may be slow and mostly imperceptible;
but the Holy Spirit is at work, and someday, without us knowing how, he
will bring to completion the work that he has begun.
So, what should we do?
Because the Church is not just her ministers and leaders but the whole
body of the faithful, more and more people need to be involved in what
is being called "spiritual ecumenism." Christians, no matter what
tradition they belong to, can say with joy and gratitude that "what
unites us is much greater than what divides us."
They believe in God the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ, Son of God and
Savior, and in the Holy Spirit, the advocate, the giver of life and
holiness. They recognize that through the sacrament of baptism they are
spiritually reborn and united with Christ and with one another. Together
they honor Sacred Scripture as the word of God and as an abiding norm of
belief and action. They share in prayer and in many other common sources
of the spiritual life.
The Holy Spirit is operative among all the baptized with his sanctifying
power. He calls all to true holiness, and it is he who in every
generation has prepared Christians of all traditions to face martyrdom
Spiritual ecumenism appreciates and values all these gifts in the
Churches of East and West. So we need opportunities for a spiritual
exchange of gifts.
Christians from different traditions need to meet each other, and in
prayer, through a healing of memories, inspire each other to ever
greater fidelity to Christ and to the Gospel.
That, in great part, is the value of the Week of Prayer for Christian
Unity. Having a special week does not exhaust our commitment, but it
reminds us that to love Christ's Church is to yearn for her holiness and
There are wrinkles, even unpleasant scars, on the face of the Church:
and a strong ecumenical commitment is an essential factor in restoring
Only when Christ's prayer at the Last Supper is fulfilled, only when we
are all one as he ardently wished, only then will the Church clearly
appear as the sign and sacrament of the world's salvation. Only then
will God's purpose be fulfilled: "that the world may believe."