Pope John Paul's weekly general audience, held in the Paul VI Hall, focussed on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which began January 18 and ends January 25 when the Pope will preside at vespers at St Paul's Outside-the-Walls Basilica. Christian Unity has been a hallmark of the Holy Father's pontificate for the past nearly quarter century. "The Lord founded one Church and one Church only," he said, citing the Vatican Council II decree on ecumenism, "Unitatis Redintegratio." "However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but they differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided." The Pope remarked that "the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity offers us the opportunity to pray together, with one voice and one heart, for the precious gift of unity. To borrow an image from St. Paul, we may say that this gift comes to us 'in earthen vessels'. It is therefore fragile and must be handled with utmost care." "Notwithstanding the sublime nature and the greatness of this gift," explained John Paul II, "human weakness has caused it to not be totally welcomed and valued. In the past, relations between Christians have been sometimes marked by opposition and, in several cases, by reciprocal hatred. All this - as the Vatican Council justly recalled - constitutes a 'scandal' for the world and 'damage' to the preaching of the Gospel." The Pope asked that Christians always and everywhere make efforts "to overcome every barrier through incessant prayer, by persevering in dialogue and with fraternal and concrete cooperation in favour of the poorest and most needy." The Holy Father dedicated closing remarks to the petrine ministry and its role in Christian Unity, citing both "Lumen Gentium" and his encyclical "Ut Unum Sint": "It seemed useful to me to propose a common reflection on the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, constituted as 'the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity' with an end to finding 'a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation." Source: Vatican News Service
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