Vespers at St Paul Outside the Walls concluding Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

26 Jan 2022

On Tuesday 25 January, Pope Francis presided at Vespers at St Paul Outside the Walls to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2022.

The theme of the Week of Prayer for this year, “We saw the Star rise in the East and we came to worship him” (Mt 2:2) had been chosen by the Middle Eastern Council of Churches. The churches in the Middle East face many challenges caused by conflict, insecurity and emigration. Many of the members of the Council reside in Beirut and so were impacted by the explosion that rocked the city in the summer of 2020 while they were preparing the materials. It is all the more striking, therefore, that the theme they chose centred on a symbol of hope, the star, that rises amidst the darkness.

In his homily the Pope used Matthew’s narrative of the Magi as paradigmatic of the ecumenical journey. The journey begins in the East, from where the sun rises, but the Magi were drawn on their journey because of their desire for a greater light and a greater knowledge. The Magi are traditionally depicted to represent a variety of peoples and so in them we see reflected different Christian traditions drawn together by their common desire to draw closer to Jesus.

The second stage of the journey, described by the Pope, was marked by the Magi’s arrival in Jerusalem where they meet both the “dark forces of this world” in Herod and others threatened by the new kingship of Jesus but also the Word of God read to them by the priests and scribes. While “fear of newness” can stall our ecumenical journey, the scriptures are a sure guide that lead us forward.

The third stage of the journey is the arrival in Bethlehem where the Magi enter the house, bow down and worship. Pope Francis noted that to worship Jesus together is also the end of our ecumenical journey and will be reached only by coming together in prayer. The Pope also noted that in worship the Magi open their treasures, a symbol of the gifts of the various Christian communities. These gifts are destined to benefit the whole People of God and therefore much be shared in an exchange of gifts.

Responding to Pope Francis in his address [IT], Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that just as the Magi found the truth of their own lives in adoring the child in the manger, so “only a theology able to kneel before the mystery will draw us towards unity”.

The Pope was joined by his Eminence Metropolitan Polykarpos, the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, His Grace Archbishop Ian Ernest, the personal representative in Rome of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and many other ecumenical representatives and pastors resident in Rome. In choir were also Bishop Barnaba El Soryani (Coptic Orthodox Church in Italy), Archbishop Khajag Barsamian (Representative of the Armenian Apostolic Church to the Holy See), Revd Gheorghe Militaru (representative of the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Italy), Revd Ivan Ivanov (Pastor of the Bulgarian community in Rome), Revd Matthew Laferty (Director of the Methodist Ecumenical Office in Rome), Revd Alessandra Trotta (Moderator of the Waldensian Table, Italy), Revd Heiner Bludau (Dean of the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Italy), and Lieutenant Colonel Jacques Donzé (Salvation Army). Also present were a number of ecumenical pilgrim groups including students from the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, Switzerland, and Anglican ordinands and priests from Nashotah College in the United States of America.

Pope Francis shared the final blessing with Metropolitan Polykarpos and Archbishop Ian Ernest.


Photos © Servizio Fotografico | Vatican Media