“That they may all be one.” To Christians around the world, this prayer of Jesus (John 17.21) is something of a mantra at this time of year. From Saturday, Jan. 18, to Sunday, Jan. 26, our churches will echo with prayers that Christians will overcome their centuries-old differences.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has over the last century become a tradition in which believers of different denominations are invited to gather together for common prayer, ministers exchange pulpits for a day or other gestures are made to reflect our desire to obey the admonition of Jesus to become one body in him.
A little background is in order here. According to Fr. Damian MacPherson, a Franciscan Friar of Atonement and Director of Ecumenism for the Archdiocese of Toronto, the week has its roots in an Anglican religious community in the United States, which started the seven-day prayer in 1908. A year later, this small community, founded by Rev. Paul James Wattson and Sister Lurana White, was received in its entirety into the Roman Catholic Church.
To this day, the Society of the Atonement continues to promote the Week of Prayer. Interestingly, their initiative has grown well beyond its humble beginnings. Pope Benedict XV extended the practice of the week throughout the entire church in 1916. And the Second Vatican Council gave ecumenism a huge boost when it reoriented the thinking of Catholics to recognize the work of Christ in their fellow Christians.
In 2012, says Fr. MacPherson, Pope Benedict XVI noted that the Week of Prayer is “one of the most effective expressions of the impetus the Second Vatican Council gave to the search for full communion among all Christ’s disciples.”
Canadian churches have long been enthusiastic participants. This year, in fact, Canada is the lead country for preparing the materials to be used for the observance of the Week. And Catholic bishops have been invited to urge their parishioners to emphasis Christian unity during this week.
-Joseph Sinasac, Publishing Director, Novalis Books