ROME – While Christian unity will be a gift from God, it won't drop miraculously from the sky but will be given to the followers of Christ step by step as they walk together and work together, Pope Francis said.
"To journey together is already to be making unity," the pope said Jan. 25 during an ecumenical prayer service marking the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
With Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and other Christian representatives present and reading some of the prayers, Pope Francis presided over the service at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
The service began with Pope Francis, Orthodox Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy and Anglican Archbishop David Moxon, the archbishop of Canterbury's representative in Rome, bowing in prayer before the tomb of St. Paul on the feast of his conversion.
"We have prayed at the tomb of Paul and said to one another, 'Let's pray that he will help us on this path, this path of unity and love,'" the pope said later in his homily.
"Unity will not come about as a miracle at the very end," he said. "Rather unity comes about in journeying."
"If we do not walk together, if we do not pray for one another, if we do not collaborate in the many ways that we can in this world for the people of God," the pope said, "then unity will not come about."
Dialogue and collaboration are essential, he said, but unity will not be the result of human effort, "but rather of the Holy Spirit, who sees our good will."
He noted how Blessed John Paul, in his1995 encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint (That All May be One), "asked for help in finding 'a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.'"
Pope Francis said, "We have made little progress in this regard."
He told the thousands of people who filled the Basilica of St. Paul for the evening prayer service that it is unacceptable to consider "divisions in the Church as something natural, inevitable."
Those "divisions wound Christ's body (and) they impair the witness which we are called to give to him before the world," he said.
"We have all been damaged by these divisions," the pope said, and all share an obligation "to persevere with humility and trust" in the search for unity.