By Robert Cheaib
ROME, JAN. 20, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The biggest obstacle to Christian unity is mankind's distance from God, according to the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Michel Sabbah.
"The perennial problem," the patriarch said Friday at the International Youth Center San Lorenzo, "not only of those who have provoked schism -- but also of us believers today is this: If we walk with God, we walk straight, and we live the true joy and the true hope of life."
"If we walk without God, our young lives become divided at the level of affectivity, our friendships spilt up, there is division in faith and inconsistency," he told the youth during a Mass for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. "In our young lives we must always look to God, and our life will be the life that Jesus proclaimed."
Archbishop Sabbah told the youth that during the week of prayer in Jerusalem, "where 13 churches coexist -- 6 Catholic, 5 Orthodox and 2 Protestant -- we gather to pray together for unity."
"All Christians must be united to Jesus Christ," he said, affirming that the problem of disunity "certainly has to do with theology and dogmas," but it is principally linked to "men and women who take the place of God."
Referring to the Book of Samuel, Archbishop Sabbah observed: "In this text we see that the people ask Samuel to give them a king. Before the monarchy the people were led by judges, who kept a bond between God and the people. The significance of this demand for a king is this: 'We do not want to deal with God but with men.'"
He then added: "The problem of unity poses this question: Are we dealing with God or with men? If we are divided, it is because everyone takes himself as the rule, his own politics, his own ideology, his own culture."
"Greek does not mean Christ, and Roman does not mean Christ," he said.
Archbishop Sabbah continued: "It is always necessary to come back to this principle: The Christian always deals with God, and if he deals with men, he does this because he sees the image of God in them.
"If God's vision is lacking, and we act as human beings with our sympathies and antipathies, then it is inevitable that there will be divisions among Christians."
Archbishop Sabbah told the youth present: "The Christian life is not one of privation but a life of abundance; as the Gospel of John reminds us, Jesus comes to give us life in abundance.
"So, persevere in your Catholic Christian faith: Deal with God, and with men as images of God. When Jesus commands us to love everyone, those who are far away and those who are near, friends and enemies, he invites us to love God himself in that person."