Prayer at Heart of Church, Says Pope

Reflects on Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 23, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Prayer is at the heart of the life of the Church, and that which gives life to ecumenical movement, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope reflected today at the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which ends Friday, Jan. 25, feast of the conversion of St. Paul.

During the octave of prayer, he said, "Christians from various churches and ecclesiastical communities come together at this time in unanimous prayer to ask the Lord Jesus for the re-establishment of unity among his disciples."

The Pontiff briefly commented on the 100-year history of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which he called a "fertile intuition" and "prophetic idea."

The octave of prayer began in 1908, at the behest of Father Paul Wattson, an Anglican from the United States and founder of the Society of the Atonement, which later became the Franciscan Sisters and Friars of the Atonement.

He set the dates of the annual prayer octave for Jan. 18, which was at the time the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, and Jan. 25, feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

"One hundred years after the first call to pray together for unity," continued the Holy Father, "this Week of Prayer has now become a consolidated tradition."

Vatican II

"Prayer is at the very heart of all Church life," continued Benedict XVI, commenting on the decree of the Second Vatican Council on Church unity, "Unitatis Redintegratio."

The council, the Pope said, "dedicated a great deal of time and attention to the subject of Christian unity," and the decree on the topic particularly emphasized the importance of praying for unity.

"That which has given, and continues to give, life to this journey toward full unification for all Christians first and foremost -- is prayer," said the Pontiff.

Commenting on the theme of the week -- "Pray without ceasing" -- Benedict XVI said that it is an "invitation that never stops resonating in our communities, because prayer is the light, the strength, the guide for our footsteps as we listen humbly to our God, the God of us all."

Quoting "Unitatis Redintegratio," the Pope said: "This holy proposition to reconcile all Christians in the unity of the Church of Christ, the one and only, surpasses all human forces and gifts. Therefore, it places all its hope in Christ's prayer for the Church."

He continued: "It is the knowledge of our human limits that drives us to abandon ourselves to the hands of the Lord with complete trust.

"We see only too well the true meaning of the Prayer Week; to rely on the prayer of Christ, who continues to pray in his Church so that 'all may be one ... so that the world may believe.'"

"Today, during this week," Benedict XVI said, "we give thanks to God who has sustained and guided the journey thus far; a rich journey that the conciliar decree on ecumenism described as 'emerged by the grace of the Holy Spirit' and 'growing more ample every day.'"