Pope Benedict XVI, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, has said that Christians should give priority to unity in the global Week of Prayer that runs from 18-25 January. He also commended a peace message going back to philosopher and theologian St Augustine (354-430 CE).
At the end of yesterday's general audience held in the Paul VI Hall in Rome, the pontiff recalled the theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which begins on Saturday: St Paul's invitation in his letter to the Thessalonian Christians: "Pray without ceasing".
This time the Week "has special significance because a hundred years have passed since its inception", he said, noting that the Apostle's message was addressed "to the whole Church".
He went on: "May the endless strength of the Holy Spirit move us to a sincere commitment to seek unity."
The Pope said that it was words and actions of unity, rather than division, that provided evidence for Christ as the world's saviour.
Benedict also commended the example and work of St Augustine, who four years before his death appointed a successor, Heraclius, as bishop of Hippo, because he "wished to dedicate the years that remained to him to a more profound study of Holy Scripture".
"What followed were four years of extraordinary intellectual activity" during which time the saint also "intervened to promote peace in the African provinces" which were being attacked from the south.
The Pope especially highlighted Augustine's words of peace: "it is a higher glory to stay war itself with a word, than to slay [people] with the sword, and to procure or maintain peace by peace, not by war."
Critics point out that, in practice, however, Augustine was not merciful towards the Donatists and others denounced as heretics in his time.