Vatican City, 26 January 2016 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon, in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, the Holy Father presided at the celebration of second Vespers on the solemnity of the conversion of St. Paul, which concluded the 49th Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on the theme "Called to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord". As is customary, the representatives of other Churches and Ecclesiastical Communities present in Rome also attended the ceremony.
In his homily, extensive extracts of which are published below, Pope Francis spoke of the common call to the mission of all Christians and invited Catholics to ask forgiveness for non-evangelical behaviour towards other Christians and to forgive in turn those who have offended them.
The conversion of St. Paul following his encounter with the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus, said the Holy Father, "is not principally a moral change, but rather an experience of Christ's transforming grace, and at the same time the call to a new mission, that of announcing to all the Jesus he had previously persecuted by persecuting His disciples. In that moment, Paul understood that between the eternally living Christ and His followers there was a real and transcendent union: Jesus lives and is present in them, and they live in Him. … God's superabundant mercy is the sole basis on which Paul's ministry is founded, and it is at the same time what the apostle must proclaim to all. … For the first Christians, as today for our baptised, it is a source of consolation and constant wonder to know that they were chosen to form part of God's plan for salvation, put into effect in Jesus Christ and in the Church. … Here we see the mystery of mercy and of God's choice: the Father loves us all and wants to save us all, and for this reason He calls to some, 'conquering' them with His grace, so that through them His love can reach everyone".
"In the light of the Word of God that we have heard, and that has guided us during this Week of Prayer for Christian unity, we may truly say that all believers in Christ are called to proclaim the mighty acts of God. Going beyond the differences that still separate us, we acknowledge with joy that at the origin of Christian life there is always a call from God Himself. … Converting means letting the Lord live and work in us. For this reason, when Christians from different Churches listen to the Word of God together and seek to put it into practice, they achieve important steps towards unity. It is not only this call that unites us. We have the same mission in common – announcing to all the wonderful works of God. While we are on the path towards full communion, we can already develop multiple forms of collaboration, working together and collaborating to promote the spread of the Gospel. By walking and working together, we realise that we are already united in the name of the Lord. Unity is achieved by walking together".
"In this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, we are well aware that Christian unity cannot truly be sought without fully trusting in God's mercy. We first ask forgiveness for the sin of our divisions, which are an open wound on the Body of Christ. As the bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I wish to invoke mercy and forgiveness for the non-evangelical behaviour of Catholics in relation to other Churches. At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if, in the past, they have been offended by other Christians. We cannot cancel out what has been, but we must not allow the weight of past errors to continue to contaminate our relations. God's mercy will renew our relationships".
"Unity is a gift of the mercy of God the Father. Here, before the tomb of St. Paul, apostle and martyr, housed in this splendid Basilica, we feel that our humble request is sustained by the intercession of the multitude of Christian martyrs, past and present. They responded generously to the call of the Lord; they bore faithful witness, with their lives, to the marvellous works that God has achieved for us, have already experienced full communion in the presence of God the Father. Sustained by their example – this example that is the ecumenism of blood – and, consoled by their intercession, we confide our humble prayer to God".