For this reason, the Pope stressed the importance of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held traditionally in the Northern Hemisphere from Jan. 18-25.
Next year, the theme will be "My Peace I Give to You." Texts for the celebration have been prepared by Christians of various confessions of the ancient city of Alepo in Syria (see www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/sub-index/index_weeks-prayer.htm).
In a message, the Holy Father reminded the participants of the council's plenary assembly that he has made several appeals for a profound approach to this initiative.
In particular, he expressed the need for the Week of Prayer "to be a widespread practice that is followed, and to avoid its becoming a routine."
On the contrary, this initiative "must be constantly animated by the sincere desire for an ever more widespread commitment in favor of the restoration of the unity of all the baptized," the papal message emphasized.
John Paul II added that he "had in many ways encouraged the faithful of the Catholic Church not to neglect the prayer for Christian unity in their daily dialogue with God."
"The ecumenical road is certainly not easy," he said. "As we advance, the obstacles are seen with greater facility and the difficulties are felt in a more lucid manner."
In this context, the Pope pointed out the decisive importance of "ecumenical spirituality," which this week has gathered cardinals, patriarchs, bishops and theologians in Rome.
The Pontiff described the present state of ecumenical relations as an "intermediate period," following the great impetus given in this area by the Second Vatican Council.
"The prospect of visible full communion might at times generate painful phenomena and reactions among those who wish to accelerate the process at all costs or those who are discouraged by the long road yet to be traveled," John Paul II said.
"We, however, putting ourselves in the school of ecumenism, are learning to live this intermediate period with humble confidence, in the awareness that it constitutes, in any case, a road of no return," he added.
Ecumenism is not an "appendix of the Church's traditional activity," the message said. On the contrary, it "forms part in an organic manner of its life and action."