Message of the Minister General for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2016

My dear brothers of the Order of Friars Minor, and all brothers, sisters and friends of our Franciscan Family,

May the Lord give you all His peace!

Indeed, as the theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity reminds us, we are called to proclaim the mighty acts of God, and there is truly no more mighty an act that we can proclaim than that of the mercy God has bestowed upon us in His Son, Jesus Christ.

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As Pope Francis stated in the bull with which he announced this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, Jesus Christ is the face of God’s mercy (1). In His words, His actions, His entire person, Jesus reveals the unfathomable mercy of God to all God’s children. God’s mercy was the Good News that Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue of Nazareth, when He Himself inaugurated His public ministry:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord (Luke 4: 18-19).

It comes as no surprise, then, that God’s mercy was also the intention of the last prayer Jesus ever offered, when from the cross He asked, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).”

Of course, this gift of God’s mercy did not die on the cross only to be buried in a tomb, forever and forgotten. God raised it up in the glorified body of His Son who in turn, as Risen Lord, made it the vocation of His disciples – of His Church (cf. John 20:19-23).

Through the mercy of God, we who were once no people are now are now God’s people, called by God’s Risen Son, Jesus Christ, to proclaim the gift of God’s mercy to all humankind. In the face of tragedies that seem to unfold in unending cycles of terror and violence, such mercy is needed, now as much as ever, by the women and men with whom we share this world as fellow children of God.

As the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity itself challenges us so poignantly, how are we Christians to credibly proclaim this Good News of God’s mercy to others when we are so divided among ourselves? When we seem intent on maintaining the edges on our own small shards of Christ’s one, broken Church? When we too often show so little mercy towards the sisters and brothers whom God has gifted us in His Son?

The Second Vatican Council pointed out this stark contrast between what we Christians say about the mighty acts God has performed for all people in Christ and how we live with one another, when it stated in its decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio:

Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men and women as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided. Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature (1).

Pope Francis has often spoken about the ecumenism in blood that today unites Christians – our suffering together “for the sake of the Name (cf. Acts 5:41).” As he said in a message to those gathered for the Day for Christian Unity in Phoenix, Arizona (USA) this past May 23rd, referring to the hatred inspired by the Evil One as the true source of our suffering:

It is he who is persecuting Christians today, he who is anointing us with martyrdom. He knows that Christians are disciples of Christ: that they are one, that they are brothers! He doesn’t care if they are Evangelicals, or Orthodox, Lutherans, Catholics or Apostolic… He doesn’t care! They are Christians.

As we begin this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, might we dare to see one another as Christians, as well, though in the light of the extraordinary mercy of God who has reconciled the world to Himself in Jesus Christ and in Christ has made us gifts to one another as sisters and brothers, co-members of Christ’s Body, called to participate in God’s restoration of the unity of all Christians.

This vision should fill the eyes and enliven the heart of every Franciscan, whose Rule and Life is this Good News of God’s mercy. As I mentioned in my message to the Order commemorating this Jubilee, for St. Francis mercy was one of the principle characteristics of the Most High, and what is more, mercy was a defining – arguably the defining – characteristic of the way we Franciscans were to live with one another and all the sisters and brothers to whom the Almighty, Eternal, Just and Merciful God sends us. How can we not give ourselves, then, to the work of reconciling Christ’s disciples and bringing healing to His Body, His Church?

My dear brothers, let us take seriously the invitation of Pope Francis who, in Misericordiae Vultus, reminds us that mercy is the foundation of the Church’s life and mission. It is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope. It is the path we must travel, for it is a criterion for ascertaining who God’s children truly are. Just as God is merciful, so we Christians are called to be merciful to each other (cf. MV, 9-10).

Let us open our hearts to receive this mercy during this Week of Prayer for Christian unity, so that God might realize His dream of bringing all things together into one in Christ Jesus (cf. Ephesians 1:10).

Rome, 18 January 2016

 

Pace e bene a tutti voi,

Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM
General Minister and Servant

 

 

Appendix

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in partnership with the World Council of Churches, has prepared resources in multiple languages for us to use. The English language of these resources may be found online here:

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/weeks-prayer-doc/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_20150526_week-prayer-2016_en.html

https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/commissions/faith-and-order/xi-week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity/2016/worship-and-background-material-for-the-week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity-2016

English and Spanish speaking Franciscans can also find these and other resources online at the Greymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement:

http://www.geii.org/week_of_prayer_for_christian_unity/theme_announcement_2016.html.

As he has for many years now, Br. Tecle Vetrali, OFM, founder of the Institute for Ecumenical Studies in Venice (formerly Verona), has prepared a series of Franciscan reflections and celebrations available here (PDF & DOC). Due to timing issues, it is available in Italian only. Given the abundance of online translation services, all Franciscans can to take advantage of this excellent resource.