The annual observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will take place Jan. 18 to 25. The theme for this year’s octave is the Epiphany: “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2). It was developed by the Middle East Council of Churches, based in Beirut, Lebanon, a nation where the damage from a massive explosion in August 2020 and crippling political dysfunction have combined to make all areas of life difficult at the present time.
Materials promoting an ecumenical prayer service to be live-streamed to the public on Facebook at noon on Wednesday, Jan. 19, say: “Today, more than ever, the Middle East needs a heavenly light to accompany its people. The star of Bethlehem is a sign that God walks with His people, feels their pain, hears their cries and shows them compassion.
“It reassures us that though circumstances change and terrible disasters may happen, God’s faithfulness is unfailing.”
The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute (GEII) and the Interchurch Center on Ecumenical, Interfaith and Community Concerns are joining to sponsor the service.
GEII, on its website, provides Scripture readings, prayers and meditations for each day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The week was first observed in 1908. At that time it was known as the Church Unity Octave, a nod to its eight-day length. The prayer movement, first celebrated in the chapel of an Atonement Franciscan Convent of the Episcopal Church located about 50 miles north of New York City in Garrison, Putnam County, soon caught the imagination of other Christians and blossomed into a worldwide observance.
Servant of God Father Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana White, S.A., founded a religious community of friars and sisters, called the Society of the Atonement, in 1898. They believed their community existed to re-establish unity within the church. The Society entered the Catholic Church in 1909.
The week seeks to recall the words of the prayer of Jesus in the Gospel of John 17:21, “That they all may be one.”
It seems as though efforts to bring forth Christian unity are not being heard as clearly or promoted as consistently as they once were. We hope others in the Church will join with the Society of the Atonement, located right here in the Archdiocese of New York at the motherhouse at Graymoor, to amplify their support of such efforts.
Many, of course, do recognize the importance of the fellowship of Christian believers.
Pope Francis, in his 2020 encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” called it “urgent to continue to bear witness to the journey of encounter between the different Christian confessions.”
Hearing Christ’s Gospel call “that all may be one” leads us, the pontiff said, to “recognize with sorrow that the process of globalization still lacks the prophetic and spiritual contribution of unity among Christians.”
Still, the pope offers a challenge, as he writes, “even as we make this journey toward full communion, we already have the duty to offer common witness to the love of God for all people by working together in the service of humanity.”