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POPE-UNITY Jan-25-2006 (610 words) xxxi

Pope says faith that God is love should help Christian unity work

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Faith that God is love and knowledge that love unites should console Christians as they continue to work and pray for Christian unity, Pope Benedict XVI said.

The pope led an ecumenical evening prayer service closing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 25, the same day his encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" ("God Is Love"), was released.

The prayer service at Rome's Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls brought together hundreds of bishops, ministers and the faithful from Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches.

"God is love. On this solid rock the entire faith of the church is based," the pope said in his homily.

"The patient search for full communion among all the disciples of Christ" also is based on the fact that God is love, he said.

"Keeping our gaze on this truth, which is the culmination of divine revelation, divisions -- while maintaining their painful seriousness -- appear possible to overcome and do not discourage us," the pope said.

Pope Benedict asked those gathered for evening prayer to think about ecumenism "in the light of the love of God, of the love that is God."

"If already on a human level loves shows itself to be an invincible force," he said, what should be the response of Christians "who have recognized and believed in the love God has for us?"

Drawn together by the same baptism and the same faith in Jesus as lord, Christian communities must overcome their divisiveness, but not necessarily their different ways of expressing and celebrating the faith, he said.

"True love does not eliminate legitimate differences, but harmonizes them in a superior unity, which is not imposed from the outside, but gives shape to the whole from inside," Pope Benedict said.

Like the love that unites a man and a woman in marriage, he said, the mystery of God's love "forms the church as a community of love, creating a unity out of a multiple richness of gifts and traditions."

Pope Benedict said that the church of Rome, whose bishop is the pope, has been given a special vocation to serve and foster the unity of the whole church in love.

"Before you, dear brothers and sisters, I want to entrust to God again my particular Petrine ministry, invoking upon it the light and strength of the Holy Spirit to promote always fraternal communion among all Christians," he said.

Pope Benedict said the week of prayer's biblical theme, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them," is a reflection of the reality of God's love present within believers.

"Love works as a principle that unites Christians and makes sure their common prayer is answered by the heavenly Father," the pope said.

God's love creates "a symphony of hearts," so that common prayer itself is a step toward unity, he said.

Pope Benedict said the commitment to Christian unity is a commitment flowing from love for God and a desire to spread God's love because, if they were united, Christians would be more effective in proclaiming the Gospel.

"The path before us is long," he said. "Yet we will not lose hope, but rather let us take up the journey again together with more vigor."

Opening the prayer service, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told the gathering the pope's encyclical highlighted the deepest reason for seeking Christian unity.

"The love of God reflected in our hearts pushes us to overcome the misunderstandings, suspicions, the bitter memories and the differences remaining among us to seek true communion," the cardinal said.


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