Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The Peace and All Good Column
Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., is the seventh Archbishop of Atlanta. In his award-winning column “Peace and All Good,” he shares homilies and pastoral reflections.

Reflections on Christian unity: ‘We need bridges, not walls’ 

By ARCHBISHOP GREGORY J. HARTMAYER, OFM Conv.  | Published January 25, 2024  | En Español

On Nov. 9, 1989, the world witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall. The East German government suddenly allowed its citizens to pass through to the Western side. It was a momentous event that took many people by surprise. For 28 years, the Berlin Wall split East and West Germany, separating families and symbolizing the wider Iron Curtain that divided the communist countries in Eastern Europe and Western democracies. Families and friends were reunited.   

Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv.

The wall was a symbol of division and oppression. Behind the wall, religious persecution was the order of the day, so much so, that one commentator referred to it as “the most godless place on the earth.”  

It is widely acknowledged that St. John Paul II played a huge part, not only in the fall of the Berlin Wall, but also in the collapse of the ideology that had created it in the first place. In the homily at the beginning of his pontificate, the late pope said: “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power, open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.”  

It was a homily he wrote by hand that flowed from his heart. And it was a message not only to Catholics, but to all people of goodwill. This was a message to atheists, too, particularly the communist ones who closed the doors, borders, systems, cultures and civilizations under their control. And it was just the start of an avalanche against the communist world and the collapse of the ideology that had created it in the first place.  

In an address marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Pope Francis said: “Dear brothers and sisters, twenty-five years ago, on 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. It had, for so long, cut the city in half and was a symbol of the ideological division of Europe and of the world as a whole. The fall occurred abruptly but was made possible by the long and strenuous commitment of so many people who fought, prayed and suffered for it; some sacrificed their lives. St Pope John Paul II was a leader among them. Let us pray that, with the help of the Lord and the cooperation of all men and women of good will, there will spread ever further a culture of encounter, capable of bringing down all the walls which still divide the world, and that no longer will innocent people be persecuted and even killed on account of their belief and their religion. Where there is a wall, there is a closed heart. We need bridges, not walls!” 

“We need bridges, not walls.” These words of the Holy Father resonate as we conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  

One of the great scandals in today’s world is the division that exists between the followers of Jesus Christ. On the night before he died, Jesus prayed for the unity of his followers “that they may be one.” Not only must we pray for unity, but also we must work for it and break down the walls that divide us. 

In his encyclical letter, Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One), St. John Paul wrote: “If Christians, despite their divisions, can grow ever more united in common prayer around Christ, they will grow in the awareness of how little divides them in comparison to what unites them. If they meet more often and more regularly before Christ in prayer, they will be able to gain the courage to face all the painful human reality of their divisions, and they will find themselves together once more in their community of the Church which Christ constantly builds up in the Holy Spirit, in spite of all weakness and human limitations.”   

United in Christ, walls crumble and bridges are built–of peace, of understanding and of hope. Peace and reconciliation happen when the people not only desire it: they demand it and work for it with humility and grace. The fall of the Berlin Wall reminds us there is hope. We can reunite after divisions: physical, ideological, theological and legal. Peace can break out at any moment. We can find one another again. And this is the path of Christian unity. 

As we observed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I invited other Christian leaders to a Service of Prayer at Holy Spirit Church, which took place Jan. 24.  

Moving forward, I make St. Paul’s words my own: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” (I Cor 1:10) 

What unites each of us is God’s unconditional love for every person. May the Lord’s prayer for unity be realized, and may he always grant us his peace.