02 Jan Message of the Minister General for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2019
You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
– Deuteronomy 16: 18-20
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!
“Justice and only justice you shall pursue (Dt 16:20)” is the theme that the Christian Communities of Indonesia have chosen for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is a theme that is both honest and urgent. It is honest because, as the drafting committee stated in its letter introducing it, “Every year Christians across the world gather in prayer for growth in unity. We do this in a world where corruption, greed and injustice bring about inequality and division. Ours is a united prayer in a fractured world.” Indeed, our prayerful unity is “powerful.”
It is here that the urgency of this year’s theme confronts us. For whenever we open our eyes to the injustices that surround us – and also infect us since we, too, are sinners who groan for the full measure of God’s Reign in our world (cf. Rm 8: 19-21) – we cannot but hear the Lord calling us to follow in His footsteps and, together, continue His mission of bringing the Good News of God’s healing love to all His suffering children. As our sisters and brothers in Indonesia went onto state,
Christian communities in such an environment become newly aware of their unity as they join in a common concern and a common response to an unjust reality. At the same time, confronted by these injustices, we are obliged, as Christians, to examine the ways in which we are complicit. Only by heeding Jesus’s prayer ‘that they all may be one’ can we witness to living unity in diversity. It is through our unity in Christ that we will be able to combat injustice and serve the needs of its victims.
We do not have to look very far to see examples of such unity-in-action in our world. In fact, many of us are already engaged in it with sisters and brothers of other Christian communities as together we confront the injustices of human trafficking in Asia, rare-earth strip-mining in Africa, deforestation in Latin America, systemic racism in North America, and the victimization of refugees by resurgent nationalist ideologues in Europe.
Of course, we do not engage in the pursuit of justice as strangers to sin, for to make such a claim is to make a liar of our Lord (cf. 1 Jn 1:10). We do so as people who give freely what our Lord Himself has given freely to us (cf. Mt 10:8): the gifts of compassion and mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation, and the gift of our very selves poured out that others may know, in the very fabric of their lives, the full measure of God’s love for them. This past July in the Italian city of Bari, Pope Francis referred precisely to this faith-filled dynamic of discipleship when, in fellowship with Christian leaders from across the Middle East, he spoke of our common vocation as Christians in that tortured region of our world,
I am most grateful for this graced moment of sharing. As brothers and sisters, we have helped one another to appreciate anew our presence as Christians in the Middle East. This presence will be all the more prophetic to the extent that it bears witness to Jesus, the Prince of Peace (cf. Is 9:5). Jesus does not draw a sword; instead, he asks his disciples to put it back in its sheath (cf. Jn 18:11). Our way of being Church is also tempted by worldly attitudes, by a concern for power and profit, for quick and convenient solutions. Then too, there is the reality of our sinfulness, the disconnect between faith and life that obscures our witness. We sense our need for renewed conversion to the Gospel, the guarantee of authentic freedom, and our need to do so urgently, as the Middle East endures a night of agony. As in the agony of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, it will not be flight(cf. Mt 26:56) or the sword(cf. Mt 26:52) that will lead to the radiant dawn of Easter. Instead, it will be our gift of self, in imitation of the Lord.
“In imitation of the Lord…” These words should resonate deeply within the hearts of us for whom the Holy Gospel is our Rule and Lifeand, indeed, deepen our commitment to the graced work of the Ecumenical Movement: to restore the unity of Christ’s Body that we sinners have broken into pieces. As the Second Vatican Council taught, our division “openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature (Unitatis redintegratio, 1).” To the extent that we Christians are able to beHis One Body, the Gospel we proclaim becomes more credible and effective in our world. Correspondingly, to the degree that we Franciscans contribute to rebuilding this unity, the more fully we live the grace of our vocation and becomethat Good News for the women and men of our wounded world.
My dear brother friars, and all sisters, brothers and friends of our Franciscan family, throughout this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity may the justice of the Gospel be our pursuit, and may the grace that animates its pursuit heal us of our of own sins and draw us into ever deeper and stronger bonds of communion with all who call upon the name of the Lord, that His prayer may be fulfilled in us for the sake of the life of the world for which He died and rose again:
As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (Jn 17: 18-21).
With every blessing to you all in your service of the Gospel, I remain,
Peace and all good,
Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM
General Minister and Servant
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches have prepared resources in English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish:
These and other resources are available online in English and Spanish from the Greymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement:
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)