When you are born into a faith you think that everyone thinks like you do. You see the world from your own skin and your own perspective. As a child growing up in Scarborough, I saw the world divided into Catholic and non-Catholic. We walked through the public school yard and up the stairs to the Catholic school. There was even the odd skirmish between Catholic students and public school students. This felt like a carry over from these divisions in past generations.
From my bedroom window I could see the cross of St. Giles’ Anglican Church on the block where I lived. On Sunday mornings, I could hear the singing all the way around the block. Still, the community was foreign to me.
This year, the theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is based on the quote of John 15:5-9: “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit.” Our faith in Christ calls us to pray for unity for God’s people and with creation. We are the diverse branches of the vine that is Christ. Christ’s call to transformation is for all of humanity.
Throughout my life, I have had many profound experiences of the love of Jesus in different communities. The most powerful was an opportunity that I had to write music for a conference of the International Prison Chaplains’ Association. The president at the time was Pierre Allard, a former Catholic priest who later became a Prison Chaplain. This man inspired prison chaplains of numerous Christian faiths around the world in their vocation. He is a humble kind man who has worked tirelessly for restorative justice and reconciliation, most notably in Rwanda.
I will never forget the circle of prayer, unity and faith of the delegates of the conference. They were from 70 different countries, working with the most wounded and vulnerable. I am not sure I have ever felt such a strong presence of Jesus Christ as I did at that gathering. One moment, in particular, stays clear in my memory. A chaplain from Uganda stood up and sang How Great Thou Art in his native language. It touched me deeply. I don’t know what his denomination was, but his faith shone through. Of course, the hymn speaks to the faith of us all. “Then sings my soul!”
At this time of hardship and division, we can be sure that the heart of Christ aches for us all to reach across the lines of division we draw. Pope Francis reminds us that ecumenism, Christian unity, is not optional. It is God’s will that all may be one. With unity, we can be a consistent witness to justice and a support for the most vulnerable.
May we all pray for the wisdom to reach across the lines that divide us and unite in faith. I can still hear the singing of the faithful of St. Giles parish, which is no longer there. Their voices are a part of my formation. God bless the St. Giles community, Rev. Dr. Pierre Allard, the prison chaplain from Uganda, and the many who champion the work of Christian Unity. My faith is stronger for having crossed their paths.
Resources for this week of prayer can be found here.
Jan Bentham is a Retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program.