As I write these words, Pope Benedict is at the basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls to celebrate vespers with other Christian leaders and to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which this year marked the 100th anniversary of its founding in the United States by Rev. Paul Wattson as an Octave of Prayer.

The Pope returned to this theme numerous times this past week, starting Sunday at the Angelus when over 200,000 faithful had come to St. Peter’s Square to show their affection and solidarity for him because earlier in the week, he had been forced to cancel a visit to Rome’s La Sapienza University because of protests by a very small group of students and professors. After speaking of his many years in a university environment and highlighting his “love for the search for truth, for discussion, for frank and respectful dialogue between different points of view,” the Pope reflected on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. He said “this is a time when Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, aware that their divisions represent an obstacle to their acceptance of the Gospel, together implore the Lord, ever more intensely, for the gift of full communion.”

He spoke again of Christian unity at the Wednesday general audience – digressing from his catechesis on St. Augustine - and twice today: once in the morning when he received members of the Joint Working Group of the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, and at 5:30 p.m. vespers in St. Paul’s Basilica where he closed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

In his speech in English this morning, the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, the Pope pointed out how "the World Council of Churches and the Catholic Church have enjoyed a fruitful ecumenical relationship dating back to the time of Vatican Council II. The Joint Working Group, which began in 1965, has worked assiduously to strengthen the 'dialogue of life' which my predecessor, Pope John Paul II, called the 'dialogue of charity'. This co-operation has given vivid expression to the communion already existing between Christians and has advanced the cause of ecumenical dialogue and understanding.”

The WCC is comprised of 347 churches, denominations and church fellowships and is present in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world. Excluding the Catholic Church which is not a member but does cooperate in many areas, and has members on some of its committees, the WCC represents more than 560 million Christians and includes most of the world's Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches. The general secretary is Rev. Samuel Kobia from Kenya.

A short time ago, in St. Paul’s Basilica, Pope Benedict, in his homily in the presence of leaders of other Christian Churches, said “it is not within our power to decide when this unity will be fully realized. Only God can do this!” He said “the work of recomposing unity, which calls for our energy and our efforts, is infinitely superior to all our own possibilities. … Unity with God and with our brothers and sisters is a gift from on high. … As did St. Paul, we put our trust and hope in the grace of God Who is with us” in such a way that He “sustains us in our constant search for unity.”


As most of you know, my weekend radio show, “Vatican Insider,” features news, a question and answer segment and an interview. I have a real treat in store for you this weekend and the next. I don’t feature an interview as much as I tell a story – or rather, I listen to a wonderful man as he tells his spellbinding story. Tune in this weekend to hear Fr. Cuong Pham tell the tale of his birth in Saigon, the war years in Vietnam, the persecution of Catholics, his father’s imprisonment, attempts by his brothers to leave with other refugees on boats, his eventual life in America, his time in the seminary – and his life today – where he is and how we met. If I was a movie producer I’d be asking someone to write the script of his life. However, as exceptional and riveting as the story is, Fr. Cuong is not the only one from his country to tell such a tale.

Check our website – - for radio stations in your area OR go to the website, click on RADIO, then click LISTEN LIVE – and do this at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning or 4:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon (all times East Coast). If you have a wonderful weekend planned and can’t tune in at those times, just go to the archives of the show next week – but please don’t miss this story.

And keep tuned to news shows to hear about the plight of Vietnamese Catholics in recent weeks. This is 2008 – for the lunar New Year it will be the Year of the Rat – but it is still a time of strong persecution of Catholics.

AsiaNews reported today that “Scuffles broke out today in Hanoi between Catholic demonstrators and police a day after a Vietnamese government delegation visited the Archbishop of Hanoi, Mgr Joseph Ngô Quang Kiêt, in a gesture meant to reduce tensions sparked by peaceful demonstrations by Vietnamese Catholics ongoing since 18 December in favor of the request made by the diocese that the building that once housed the Apostolic Delegation be returned to the Church. Today’s incident came as some 2,000 people—priests, men and women religious and faithful—gathered to protest. Priests and worshippers left St Joseph’s Cathedral in procession and made their way to the nearby building that used to be the home of the Apostolic Delegation.

“The procession blocked traffic. Some women entered the old Apostolic Delegation compound to place some flowers on the statue of Our Lady inside the building. Police tried to stop them with sticks, kicks and shoves but provoked instead a reaction by the men in the procession who entered the gardens where they erected a cross. The protesters were eventually removed by police but some were arrested, including Lê Quốc Quân, a well-known Catholic lawyer.

“Yesterday the group of government officials who visited Monsignor Ngô was led by Ngô Thị Thanh Hằng, deputy chairman of the capital’s People’s Committee, ostensibly to offer the prelate their best wishes for the lunar New Year (Tết). Ms Ngô did not however apologise for or withdraw comments she made on 14 January to the effect that the archbishop was “using religion freedom to provoke anti-government protest” that could “damage relations between Vietnam and the Vatican.”

[By the way: After the Philippines, Vietnam is the country in Asia with the largest Catholic populace, about 12 million out of a total of 84 million people. The church property mentioned in the above article has been turned into a restaurant and parking lot.]

Have a great weekend!

(Đài EWTN, từ Roma,