On Saturday 25 January at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Pope Francis celebrated Second Vespers for the feast of the conversion of Saint Paul at the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Holy Father processed into the basilica accompanied by other Christian leaders who minister in the city of Rome, stopping to pray at the tomb of Saint Paul together with Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios, representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Italy and Malta, and His Grace Ian Ernest, representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The leaders then stopped at the relics of Saint Timothy, which had been moved to the Basilica for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The texts for the 2020 Week of Prayer, prepared by the Christian Churches of Malta and Gozo, are on the theme: “They showed us unusual kindness” (cf. Acts 28:2). The passage chosen narrates the Paul’s shipwreck in Malta and the hospitality which was extended to Paul and his companions. This virtue, which invites us to be more generous towards those in need, is particularly necessary in the search for Christian unity.
In his homily, the Holy Father stressed that the account of the Acts of the Apostles speaks to us of our quest for the unity that God so ardently desires for us: “Among Christians, each community has a gift to offer to the others. The more we look beyond partisan interests and overcome the legacies of the past in the desire to move forward towards a common landing place, the more readily we will recognize, welcome and share these gifts”. He reminds in particular that “those who are weak and vulnerable, those who have little to offer materially but find their wealth in God, can present valuable messages for the good of all”.
Lastly, Pope Francis reflected that “Hospitality belongs to the tradition of Christian communities and families. Our elders taught us this by their example: there was always something extra on the table of a Christian home for a passing friend or a person in need who knocked on the door. In monasteries a guest is treated with great respect, as if he or she were Christ. Let us not lose, indeed let us revive, these customs that have the flavour of the Gospel!”
On behalf of all those present, Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, expressed his sincere and profound gratitude to the Holy Father for his unwavering commitment to Christian unity. “From the start, the ecumenical movement has been a prayer movement”, he said in his greeting. “Without this stream of prayer, the ecumenical boat could not have left the port. And without this stream of prayer, it could not have continued its journey”.
Pope Francis imparted the final blessing together with Metropolitan Gennadios and His Grace Ian Ernest.
Photo © Servizio Fotografico - Vatican Media