Pope Francis has issued a stirring call for unity among Christians and denounced the “jealousy” and “envy” that cause such fragmentation in Christian communities.

During his general audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis denounced divisions between Christians as a “Scandal” proclaiming that,

“Christ’s name creates communion and unity, not division. He came to create communion among us, not to divide us!”

The Pope went on

“Jealousy and envy open the doors to all evil things…They also divide the community.”

When some members of a Christian community suffer from envy and jealousy, the Pope reminds us, the community “ends up divided: one against the other.” And “this is a strong poison – a poison that we find on the first page of the Bible in Cain.”


But, what does Pope Francis mean by “unity”? What does he think this “unity” might look like? Is there room for me and my church in the Pope’s vision of unity?
The CatholicOnLine report of the Pope’s comments on unity, suggests that,
Pope Francis has rightly referred to it as a scandal because we seem to have forgotten the message of St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians.St. Paul encouraged his followers to accept and rejoice in the gifts other Christians share. During his time, the Church was divided mostly by geography, and the Church lacked a canon, but the faith was unified under the leadership of the apostles and their successors and united under St. Peter at the outset.

It is hard to imagine that he will see his vision fulfilled if the Pope is hoping for a unity based on a single shared “canon” and institutional allegiance to the Roman vision of a unity that comes “under the leadership of the apostles and their successors”.

The Church of Rome is certainly the biggest, most universal, and most powerful institutional embodiment of Christian faith. But, that does not mean it is the only legitimate visible expression of the Body of Christ in the world.

It is not clear that institutional diversity is necessarily the greatest tragedy in the Christian faith. The greater tragedy may be the failure of the dominant Christian institution in the world today to honour, celebrate, respect, and fully embrace those smaller expressions of Christian community located outside the “canon” and “leadership” of Rome.

What might the Christian witness in the world look like if we were able to shift our vision of unity away from institutional uniformity towards an affirmation of the deeper unity of the Spirit expressed in the common commitment of all Christian people to the presence and power of Christ at work in the world? What if we were able to put aside jealousy and envy and truly respect and honour the work of God’s Spirit in diverse communities of faith regardless of their institutional commitments?

It may that the greater grace is called for from the larger, stronger part of the Christian world. In his call to unity among Christians, Paul suggested,

the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect. (I Corinthians 12:22,23)

Paul also instructed the Christians in Rome

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)

The onus of Christian charity and love resides most profoundly with that part of Christ’s embodiment here on earth which is the most robust.

Hopefully, Francis has truly taken to heart the injunctions of Paul, and will be able to affirm that, indeed we who find our faith nurtured apart from his dominant expression of church, remain none the less fully brothers and sisters in Christ and should be able to express our common faith in shared communion at the Lord’s Table.