Today begins the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It ends on January 25, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
The first Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began in 1908, and is now coordinated by the World Council of Churches, with participation by 13 Churches, including the Catholic Church. Pope Pius X officially blessed the concept in the early 20th century, and Pope Benedict XV encouraged its observance throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church.
I was first ordained a priest in 1977, and for about 12 years after that I remember ecumenical liturgical celebrations taking place each year either during this particular week, or around Thanksgiving, when the weather was usually less wintry. There might have been other occasions during the year when all the Christian Churches in a town or city would gather for an ecumenical liturgy or event.
But in the last 25 years or so, wherever I have been assigned for ministry, virtually none of these gatherings have taken place. I wonder why? Do we no longer consider Christian unity a ministry worthy of our time and effort? Is there no impulse to reach out to our brother and sister Christians to pray, study, and work for visible unity among Christ’s disciples? Are we so wrapped up with “Catholic” concerns, that we do not want to establish times of prayer, or Bible Study, or ministry with members of other Christian denominations? I am not aware of any such occurrences taking place in Naperville this year, or in any of the 7 years in which I have lived in this city.
Such omissions are indeed sad, for Christ himself prayed at the Last Supper that “all may be one.” Take some time and read the Gospel according to John 17:20-25. Also check out St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 4:4-7 for another Scriptural basis for Christian unity.