Divisions among Christians “hurt the Church and they wound Christ,” Pope Francis said to tens of thousands of visitors gathered in Saint Peter’s Square Wednesday morning.
During her journey through history, “the Church is tempted by the devil who tries to divide it,” the Pope said, and unfortunately, “she has been marred by serious and painful divisions.”
Francis devoted his “general audience” to the issue of the unity of Christians, urging his listeners to take an active part in healing the wounds that still separate them.
We must not forget, he said that “there are many brothers and sisters who share our faith in Christ, but who belong to other denominations or traditions different from our own.” He challenged his hearers not to accept these painful divisions, which in the course of history have “often been a cause of conflict and suffering, even wars.”
“Are we resigned, or even indifferent to this division? Or do we firmly believe that we can and must walk in the direction of reconciliation and full communion?” he asked.
“Our preaching and our testimony will be all the more credible if we are able to live in communion and love each other. That’s what his apostles understood,” he said.
No matter the specific historical causes of these conflicts, “what is certain is that, in one way or another, behind all these divisions there is always pride and selfishness,” he added. These flaws “make us intolerant, unable to listen and accept those who have a vision or a position different from ours.”
As usual, Francis did not leave the issue on a theoretical plane, but offered practical advice, as well. He encouraged his hearers to pray for the unity of Christians and to just begin walking together in what he called “spiritual ecumenism.”
In every community, there are good theologians, the Pope said, so let them debate the issues “while we walk together, praying for each other and carrying out works of charity.”
“This is called ‘spiritual ecumenism,'” he went on, “walking the path of life together in our faith in Jesus Christ the Lord.”
“The Lord asks us not to fix our gaze on what divides us, but rather on what unites us,” said Francis, “and this means adherence to the truth, along with the ability to forgive, and to feel part of the same Christian family.”
“There are divisions,” he declared. “There are divided Christians. We are divided among ourselves. But we all have something in common: we all believe in Jesus Christ, the Lord. We all believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and we all walk together. We are on a journey.”
The Pope concluded hopefully, “Let us go forward towards full unity! History has separated us, be we are on the way to reconciliation and communion! And this is true! And this we must defend! We are all on a journey towards communion.”