By Linda Bordoni
“Hospitality belongs to the tradition of Christian communities and families,” Pope Francis said during his homily at an ecumenical prayer service that concludes the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Openness and care for the other, in particular for migrants, was the theme at the heart of the Week of Prayer that saw the participation of Christian leaders of all denominations gathered in Rome from 18 to 25 January.
The Vatican's Sistine Chapel Choir and a Choir of Benedictine Monks sang at the service at Rome's Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls which traditionally takes place on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
The theme for the 2020 Week of Prayer was chosen by a group of representatives from the Christian Churches in Malta from the Acts of the Apostles: “They Showed Us Unusual Kindness”.
Pope Francis began his homily reflecting on that reading and recalling that three different groups were on board the ship that brought Saint Paul to Rome as a prisoner: a group of soldiers, a group of sailors, and a group of prisoners – the weakest and most vulnerable.
He said that when the ship ran aground off the coast of Malta, the soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to ensure that no one would escape, but they were stopped by a centurion who wanted to save Paul.
Trusting in God
“Although he was among the most vulnerable, Paul offered something important to his traveling companions”, the Pope explained, “While everyone was losing all hope of survival, the Apostle brought an unexpected message of hope.”
Paul trusted in an angel who had told him not to be afraid, he said, and his trust proved well founded when all the travellers were saved and once in Malta experienced the hospitality, kindness and humanity of the island’s inhabitants.
This account from the Acts of the Apostles, the Pope continued, “also speaks to our ecumenical journey towards that unity which God ardently desires.”
Listening to the small and the weak
In the first place, the Pope said, “it tells us that those who are weak and vulnerable, those who have little to offer materially but find their wealth in God, can present valuable messages for the good of all.”
He invited those present to think of even the smallest and least significant of Christian communities saying that “if they experience the Holy Spirit, if they are animated by love for God and neighbour, have a message to offer to the whole Christian family.”
Let us think, he added, of marginalized and persecuted Christian communities: “As in the account of Paul’s shipwreck, it is often the weakest who bring the most important message of salvation.”
God, Pope Francis said, saves us “not with the power of this world, but with the weakness of the cross.”
And warning against the temptation to be attracted by worldly logic, he urged all Christians to listen to the small and the weak, “because God loves to send his messages through those who most resemble his Son made man.”
He explained that the account in Acts also reminds us that God’s priority is the salvation of all.
God’s desire that everyone be saved, he said, “is an invitation not to devote ourselves exclusively to our own communities.”
He said that if we overcome our divisions each person can contribute to the salvation of all.
“Among Christians as well, each community has a gift to offer to the others. The more we look beyond partisan interests and overcome the legacies of the past in the desire to move forward towards a common landing place, the more readily we will recognize, welcome and share these gifts,” he said.
Finally, the Pope focussed on the third aspect that was at the centre of this Week of Prayer: hospitality.
He dwelt on the passage in which Saint Luke says, with regard to the inhabitants of Malta, “The natives showed us unusual kindness” and recalled the welcoming actions and attitude shown towards the shipwrecked travellers who were then repaid by Paul.
“From this Week of Prayer we want to learn to be more hospitable, in the first place among ourselves as Christians and among our brothers and sisters of different confessions. Hospitality belongs to the tradition of Christian communities and families,” he said.
Pope Francis concluded greeting the many representatives of Christian denominations gathered with him to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and said: “Together, without ever tiring, let us continue to pray and to beg from God the gift of full unity among ourselves.”