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“THE DIVISIONS AMONG US CHRISTIANS ARE A SCANDAL”

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General Audience of Pope Francis held in St. Peter’s Square January 22, 2014.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Last Saturday, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began, it ended yesterday, on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle. It is a time dedicated to prayer for the unity of all the baptized, in keeping with the will of Christ: “that they may all be one” (John 17:21).

Every year, an ecumenical group from a region of the world suggests a theme, under the guidance of the Ecumenical Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and prepares the prayers for the Week of Prayer. This year these prayers referred to the question Saint Paul addressed to the Christians of Corinth: “Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:13).

Christ was certainly not divided. However, we must admit sincerely, with sorrow, that our communities continue to live divisions that are a scandal. There is no other word: a scandal. “Each one of you – the Apostle wrote – says: ‘I belong to Paul,’ ‘I instead belong to Apollo,’ ‘And I belong to Cephas,’ ‘And I belong to Christ’” (1:12).

But Christ’s name creates communion and unity, not division! He has come to make communion among us, not to divide us. Baptism and the Cross are central elements of Christian discipleship which we have in common. Divisions, instead, weaken credibility and the effectiveness of our commitment to evangelization and risk emptying the Cross of its power (cf. 1:17).

Paul reproached the Corinthians for their disputes, but he also thanked God “because of the grace which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and knowledge” (1:4-5). These words are not a simple formality, but a sign that he sees first of all  — and of this he rejoices sincerely — the gifts made by God to the community. This attitude of the Apostle is an encouragement for us and for every Christian community to acknowledge with joy the gifts of God present in other communities. Despite the suffering of the divisions, which unfortunately still remain, let us receive Paul’s words as an invitation to rejoice sincerely for the graces granted by God to other Christians: let us recognize it and rejoice.

It is good to acknowledge the grace with which God blesses us and, even more so, to find in other Christians something of which we are in need, something that we can receive as a gift from our brothers and our sisters.  This requires much prayer, humility, reflection and constant conversion. Let us go forward on this path, praying for the unity of Christians, so that this scandal may cease and be no longer with us.

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