Lent, a time shared by all Christians
As we journey through Lent in Rome, I have a new appreciation for the universal commitment of Christians to fast, pray, repent and give alms to the poor.
Only a few weeks before Ash Wednesday, we celebrated the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with events, conferences and various masses and prayer services throughout Rome.
Two events particularly shaped my reflections. The first was the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, which is the Eucharistic celebration for Byzantine Catholics the world over, held at Chiesa Santa Maria in Via Lata.
I was moved by the beautiful singing in the Byzantine Catholic liturgy and touched by the obvious faith of the seminarian choir. I was praying silently along with the unfamiliar words and chants, when suddenly I heard the words to the Lord’s Prayer in Italian. These familiar words of unity, given to us by Jesus and chanted in the middle of this unfamiliar liturgy, surprised me.
There, at Chiesa Santa Maria in Via Lata, I was reminded that God speaks to Christians in the words we can understand. How, despite the differences of language and rite, we are still intimately united.
The second event was Vespers with Pope Francis on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. The almost cavernous basilica is visually stunning, and one mosaic of every pope in Church history lines the walls.
Here, at the site of the martyrdom of St. Paul, I watched Pope Francis walk slowly down the aisle with representatives of other churches and ecclesial communities. The pope in his homily said: “Authentic reconciliation between Christians will only be achieved when we can acknowledge each other’s gifts and learn from one another, with humility and docility, without waiting for the others to learn first.”
I was touched as I watched him display this humility through his dignified walk with other Christian leaders and representatives.
It is with these powerful experiences in mind—one of the plurality of the Catholic Church and the other of ecumenism—that I began Lent this year. They shaped my whole outlook and made me viscerally aware that, during this season of fasting, I am joined by my brothers and sisters across the globe, across languages and across rites, united by one Savior.