Most of us have neighbours, family members, colleagues or friends who are Christian but not Catholic. It turns out we may (perhaps without realizing it) be working toward Christian unity through those relationships. As an Anglican priest once said to me, when it comes to Christian unity, a lot of the work goes on from the bottom up: ecumenical families and others are living that unity in their daily lives! When we pray with and for each other, witness to how God is at work in our lives and build God’s kingdom together in all kinds of ways, Christian unity is actively happening in the world.
To underline and strengthen this important endeavour, we traditionally celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity from January 18 to 25. The Week is bookended by the feasts of St. Peter and St. Paul, two apostles who welcomed all into faith in Jesus.
We may be aware of local events marking this week, but much is also taking place at the national and international level – all year long.
The World Council of Churches (WCC), founded in 1948 and based in Geneva, Switzerland, is a fellowship of around 350 members – Christian churches of all shapes and sizes from more than 120 countries representing over 580 million Christians around the world. Although it isn’t a member, the Roman Catholic Church cooperates and works with the WCC and is involved in many gatherings and initiatives under the WCC umbrella. Here in Canada, the Canadian Council of Churches (founded in 1944) works at the grassroots level, encouraging ecumenical initiatives, dialogues and actions. It represents 26 member churches, including the Roman Catholic Church.
Every year, a church community somewhere in the world chooses the theme and prepares resources to help others celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity well. This year, the Middle East Council of Churches, based in Beirut, Lebanon, created the resources, which are published by the WCC and available free of charge online. The theme is “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). Resources include reflections, a worship service, hymn suggestions, videos, and more.
Canadian resources (available in English and French) are created by member churches of the Canadian Council of Churches in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism and the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism.
Let’s all find a way to get involved in the Week this year: follow the Canadian Council of Churches on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, download the resources and use them in your family or parish (in person or via Zoom), and join in the prayer of Jesus that all may be one (John 17:21). When the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity ends, the work of Christian unity continues!
Lord God, illumine our path by the light of Christ who moves before us and leads us. Enlighten us and dwell within us. Guide us to discover a small manger in our hearts where a great light still sleeps. Creator of light, we thank you for the gift of that unfading Star, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. May he be a beacon for our pilgrimage. Heal our divisions and draw us closer to the Light that we may find our unity in him. Amen.
(Day 1, Biblical reflections and prayers for the Eight Days, 2022 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Canadian resources)
Anne Louise Mahoney is managing editor of Novalis. She is the editor of Looking to the Laity: Reflections on Where the Church Can Go from Here and the author of I Hope, a book for young children.