Prayer for Christian Unity
Christian Unity is a great desire among the followers of Christ. This stems from the very prayer of Jesus himself at the Last Supper: “I pray not only for them (his disciples), but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (Jn. 17:20-22) A deep sadness in the heart of Christians and a great scandal in the eyes of the world is the disunity among the followers of Christ who preached love.
The ecumenical movement of the past 150 years works for Christian unity. But the historical baggage is so heavy, the human heart is so wily, and the human mind is so uncanny, that people realize that Christian unity cannot come about without grace from God. Thus, the need for prayer.
Unity is first of all a work of grace. Christians recognize this, so most Christian groups have now agreed to pray together for Christian unity. This is the Week of Prayer of Christian Unity which began in 1908, initiated by Fr. Paul Wattson, a co-founder of the Graymoor Franciscan Friars. It is done between January 18 till January 25 in the Northern Hemisphere and between Ascension and Pentecost in the Southern Hemisphere.
In 1948, with the founding of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and its joining in this movement, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity became increasingly recognised by different churches throughout the world. The WCC represents some 590 million people across the world in about 150 countries, including 520,000 local congregations. Its member churches include most of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion, some Old Catholic churches, and numerous Protestant churches, including many Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian and other Reformed, a sampling of united and independent churches, and some Pentecostal churches, such as the Baptist and Pentecostal.
It is a giant step in the ecumenical movement that so many Christian churches pray together in the same week for unity among them. Besides prayers, meetings and conferences are organized so that more people can realize the need for Christian unity, and different Christian groups can know each other better and have fellowship with one another. Common charitable works and community development projects are also done to bear witness to the others how Christians can work together to better the situation of the poor and the vulnerable in society.
The challenge for us Catholics is to participate in these activities. There is already a consciousness among Church leaders about the need for ecumenism but this is not yet so among ordinary Catholics in the Philippines. In fact, there is much suspicions among Catholics towards the Protestants and the Evangelicals. The aggressive behaviors of the “Born Agains” in recruiting members or attacking traditional Catholic practices do not help in allaying the suspicions. So, there is much yet to be done in the field of ecumenism, especially during this year of 2020 when our theme is on ecumenism, inter-religious dialogue and indigenous peoples, that is, in building harmony through dialogue with those who are different from us.
Let us start with praying for unity during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity to enter into this spirit of dialogue. Let us inject intentions for Christian unity in our daily prayers, and if there is any opportunity, let us join in organized ecumenical prayers and gatherings. May we indeed be one as Jesus and the Father are one.