In Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, invites Christians of all confessions to assist migrants, some of whom face danger on the same seas where St. Paul was shipwrecked
In this week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to come to see Christians of other traditions as gifts to receive, recognizing that the Holy Spirit sows his graces everywhere.
Every year, the week of January 18-25 is dedicated to prayer for Christian Unity, in response to Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper, that his followers would be “one” as he and the Father are one.
The annual week of prayer is given a theme, chosen by different groups across the globe. This year’s theme is hospitality, chosen by the communities of Malta and Gozo. The Holy Father noted how just two weeks ago, he spoke of the event in Acts of the Apostles that is the base for the theme: When Paul was shipwrecked in Malta and received hospitality there, bringing the gift of the Gospel to the people.
Hospitality is an “important ecumenical virtue,” the pope said.
First and foremost it means recognizing that other Christians are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are brothers and sisters. Someone will say to you: “But he is Protestant, he is Orthodox…”. Yes, but we are brothers in Christ.
The Holy Father went on to say that when we are hospitable to our brothers, it’s not one-way, because they become gifts to us. Like the Maltese, he said, “we are repaid, because we receive what the Holy Spirit has sown in these, our brothers and sisters, and this becomes a gift for us too, because the Holy Spirit also sows His graces everywhere.
Ecumenical hospitality requires a willingness to listen to others, paying attention to their personal stories of faith and the history of their community, communities of faith with a different tradition from ours. Ecumenical hospitality involves the desire to know the experience of God that other Christians have, and the expectation of receiving the spiritual gifts that come with it. And this is a grace, discovering this is a grace.
The Holy Father noted how in previous times, this was not so well understood. He recounted a case from Argentina from “times gone by” when Catholics burned the tents of Evangelicals who arrived to do missions in the country.
“We are brothers, we are all brothers, and we must show hospitality to one another,” he said.
Those same seas
Pope Francis went on to reflect that one challenge for all Christians to face together is the plight of migrants, since that same sea on which Paul was shipwrecked is “once again a dangerous place.” He expressed horror that after 2,000 years, the situation is in some senses worse.
All over the world migrant men and women face risky voyages to escape violence, to escape war, to escape poverty. Just as Paul and his companions experience the indifference, the hostility of the desert, the rivers, the seas… Very often they are not permitted to land in ports. But, unfortunately, sometimes they also encounter the far worse hostility of men. They are exploited by criminal traffickers. Today! They are treated like numbers and a threat by some rulers: today! Sometimes inhospitality throws them back, like a wave, towards poverty or the dangers from which they have fled.
Francis said that we Christians must work together to show migrants the love God revealed through Jesus.
The divisions that still exist between us prevent us from being fully the sign of God’s love. Working together to live ecumenical hospitality, especially towards those whose lives are most vulnerable, will make all us Christians – Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, all Christians – better human beings, better disciples, and a more united Christian people. It will bring us even closer to unity, which is God’s will for us.