Message of the OFM Minister General for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby exchange a sign of peace during Vespers at the Monastery of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome, October 5, 2016.

Message of the Minister General for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
 Rome, 18 January 2017
 
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. —  2 Corinthians 5: 14-20
 
My dear brothers of the Order of Friars Minor, and all brothers, sisters and friends of our Franciscan Family,
 
May the Lord give you all His peace!
 
The love of Christ, indeed, urges us on; it compels us to share with all members of the human family what we have seen and heard, namely that in Jesus Christ, God’s Word of love became flesh so that we may be reconciled to one another as His children and to Him as our Heavenly Father (cf. 1 John 1:3). This is our vocation – as Franciscans, yes. This is, after all, the Good News we profess as our Rule and Life. More fundamentally, this is our vocation as Christians, and in world crying out for news of just such love, it is a most fitting theme for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
 
 It is by no means an exaggeration to say that we are living in an age of unprecedented disparities and divisions – social, economic, political, even environmental – and open, armed conflict, including horrific violence committed in the name of God. We do not have to open a newspaper, turn on a television, or log-onto the world-wide-web to see images of unimaginable suffering. All we need do is look outside the window; this world is literally at our doorsteps, crying out for that justice which alone provides the foundation for peace: the effective recognition of people’s inherent and inviolable dignity as God’s children, regardless of the name(s) by which they call upon God. This cry should find a heartfelt and singular welcome by all who claim to be disciples of God’s Son. 
 
As Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby recently stated in their Common Declaration marking the fiftieth anniversary of official dialogue between our two ecclesial communions, “Jesus gave his life in love, and rising from the dead overcame even death itself. Christians who have come to this faith, have encountered Jesus and the victory of his love in their own lives, and are impelled to share the joy of this Good News with others.” Therefore,
 

“We can, and must, work together to protect and preserve our common home: living, teaching and acting in ways that favor a speedy end to the environmental destruction that offends the Creator and degrades his creatures, and building individual and collective patterns of behavior that foster a sustainable and integral development for the good of all. We can, and must, be united in a common cause to uphold and defend the dignity of all people. The human person is demeaned by personal and societal sin. In a culture of indifference, walls of estrangement isolate us from others, their struggles and their suffering, which also many of our brothers and sisters in Christ today endure. In a culture of waste, the lives of the most vulnerable in society are often marginalized and discarded. In a culture of hate we see unspeakable acts of violence, often justified by a distorted understanding of religious belief. Our Christian faith leads us to recognize the inestimable worth of every human life, and to honor it in acts of mercy by bringing education, healthcare, food, clean water and shelter and always seeking to resolve conflict and build peace. As disciples of Christ we hold human persons to be sacred, and as apostles of Christ we must be their advocates.”

Of course, such faith-filled work does not, and indeed cannot, obscure or obviate the real and significant differences that divide us as disciples. This rightly acknowledged, our differences also “cannot prevent us from recognizing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ by reason of our common baptism. Nor should they ever hold us back from discovering and rejoicing in the deep Christian faith and holiness we find within each other’s traditions,” principally by our working together to proclaim the Good News of God’s Reign. Indeed, it is through such a common, lived proclamation of the Gospel that we divided disciples may come to appreciate that “wider and deeper than our differences are the faith that we share and our common joy in the Gospel,” and discern the path towards that unity of mind and heart Christ prayed would be ours, “so that the world might believe. (John 17:21)”
 
My brothers, it is no coincidence that this year, when we commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, our Week of Prayer for Christian Unity should center upon this theme of reconciliation. In fact, it was precisely because of this anniversary that this theme was chosen. Therefore, as Pope Francis and Bishop Mounib Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation, requested in their recent Joint Declaration, may we Protestants and Catholics not only give thanks “for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation,” but also “confess and lament before Christ” that we have so wounded the visible unity of His Body. Truly, as Pope Francis and Bishop Younan stated,
 
 “Our common faith in Jesus Christ and our baptism demand of us a daily conversion, by which we cast off the historical disagreements and conflicts that impede the ministry of reconciliation. While the past cannot be changed, what is remembered and how it is remembered can be transformed. We pray for the healing of our wounds and of the memories that cloud our view of one another. We emphatically reject all hatred and violence, past and present, especially that expressed in the name of religion. Today, we hear God’s command to set aside all conflict. We recognize that we are freed by grace to move towards the communion to which God continually calls us.”
 
My dear brother friars, and all sisters, brothers and friends of our Franciscan family, may our hearts truly be open to receive the gift of this grace as we celebrate this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, so that we might be the ministers of reconciliation our Lord calls us to be: Friars Minor; faithful Catholics; brothers of all the men and women compelled by His love to heal the broken world for which He died – and was raised.
 
Pax et bonum,
 
 
Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM General Minister and Servant
 
Appendix
 
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches have prepared resources in English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish:
 • https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/week-of-prayer. 
 
Br. Tecle Vetrali, OFM, founder of the Institute for Ecumenical Studies in Venice (formerly in Verona), has prepared a translation of all this material into Italian:
 • http://www.ofm.org/ofm/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/UnitaCristiani2017_IT.pdf
 
These and other resources are available online from the Greymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement:
 • http://www.geii.org/week_of_prayer_for_christian_unity/.