Pope Francis urged Christians to pray for “the gift of unity” on Wednesday, saying that the devil always seeks to sow division and discord.
“During this time of serious hardship, this prayer is even more necessary so that unity might prevail over conflicts. It is urgent that we set aside preferences to promote the common good, and so our good example is fundamental: it is essential that Christians pursue the path toward full visible unity,” Pope Francis said in his general audience address on Jan. 20.
“The world will not believe because we will have convinced it with good arguments, but because we will have borne witness to that love that unites us and draws us near to everyone,” the pope said.
The Church dedicates one week each January to prayer for unity among all Christians. Pope Francis said that this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, held on Jan. 18-25, is “dedicated specifically to this: to ask God for the gift of unity to overcome the scandal of division between believers in Jesus.”
The pope stressed that prayer for unity involves a spiritual battle both with the divisions within oneself and with the temptation of the devil.
“To pray means to fight for unity. Yes, fight, because our enemy, the devil, is the one who divides, as the word itself says. He is the divider. Jesus asks for unity through the Holy Spirit, to create unity. The devil always divides … He fosters division everywhere and in any way, while the Holy Spirit always joins in unity,” Pope Francis said.
“In general, the devil does not tempt us with high theology, but with the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters. He is cunning: he magnifies others’ mistakes and defects, sows discord, provokes criticism and creates factions.”
“God has another way: He takes us as we are, he loves us so much … he takes us as different, as sinners, and always nudges us towards unity.”
In his virtual Wednesday audience, broadcast live from the library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, the pope encouraged people to “evaluate ourselves and ask ourselves if, in the places in which we live, we nurture conflict or fight for an increase of unity with the tools that God has given us: prayer and love.”
Pope Francis insisted that “unity can only be achieved as a fruit of prayer,” saying that “we are not able to obtain unity with our own strength.”
"In fact, we know that we are not capable of preserving unity even within ourselves. Even the Apostle Paul felt a painful conflict within himself: wanting the good but inclined toward evil (see Romans 7:19). He had thus grasped the root of so many divisions that surround us -- between people, in families, in society, between nations and even between believers -- and inside us,” he said.
“The Second Vatican Council stated, ‘the imbalances under which the world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man. For in man himself many elements wrestle with one another. […] Hence he suffers from internal divisions, and from these flow so many and such great discords in society’ (Gaudium et spes, 10).”
“Therefore, the solution to these divisions is not to oppose someone, because discord generates more discord. The true remedy begins by asking God for peace, reconciliation, unity.”
The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit.”
“The root of communion and love is Christ who makes us overcome our prejudices to see in others a brother or sister to be loved always,” Pope Francis said.