Today begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. For the next seven days, Christians all over the world, of many denominations, will pray together, asking God to help us overcome what divides us and unite us in Him.
Ecumenism refers to all the activities and initiatives of the Church that seek to promote greater unity among Christians. The ecumenical work of the Church was especially important to Blessed Pope John Paul II, who over the course of his papacy, made great strides to heal wounds and draw Christians closer together.
In 1995, Blessed John Paul II wrote a beautiful encyclical called Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One). Here is an excerpt:
Jesus himself, at the hour of his Passion, prayed “that they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). This unity, which the Lord has bestowed on his Church and in which he wishes to embrace all people, is not something added on, but stands at the very heart of Christ’s mission. Nor is it some secondary attribute of the community of his disciples. Rather, it belongs to the very essence of this community. God wills the Church, because he wills unity, and unity is an expression of the whole depth of his agape.
In effect, this unity bestowed by the Holy Spirit does not merely consist in the gathering of people as a collection of individuals. It is a unity constituted by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments and hierarchical communion. The faithful are one because, in the Spirit, they are in communion with the Son and, in him, share in his communion with the Father: “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:3). For the Catholic Church, then, the communion of Christians is none other than the manifestation in them of the grace by which God makes them sharers in his own communion, which is his eternal life. Christ’s words “that they may be one” are thus his prayer to the Father that the Father’s plan may be fully accomplished, in such a way that everyone may clearly see “what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things” (Eph 3:9). To believe in Christ means to desire unity; to desire unity means to desire the Church; to desire the Church means to desire the communion of grace which corresponds to the Father’s plan from all eternity. Such is the meaning of Christ’s prayer: “Ut unum sint“.
(To read the rest of the encyclical, click here. Copyright Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Reprinted with permission.)
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity offers prayers and reflections online to guide Christians through this special week of prayer. Join us, and Christians around the world, in offering these petitions:
Walking in conversation, let us recognize all the efforts of the ecumenical movement towards the realization of the unity willed by Christ for the Church.
Send your Spirit to strengthen our resolve and deepen our conversations to realize Jesus’ prayer in us.
Walking with the broken body of Christ, we are painfully aware that we are still unable to join in the breaking of bread together. Hasten the day when we can realize the fullness of fellowship at the Lord’s table.
Inflame in our hearts the desire to overcome all that divides us so that we can see one Christ in our brokenness.
Walking towards freedom, let us remember communities other people facing discrimination and may the unity of the Churches be a sign of hope in situations of injustice.
Strengthen our churches’ commitment to create spaces in our society and communities, to enable them to live in dignity and freedom. Allow us to be transformed by their gifts and presence.
Walking as children of earth, we realize that we are pilgrims in the wonderful gift of creation given to us. Let us respect the earth as your creation and make us sensitive to the care of it.
Let your Spirit renew creation and make us attentive to the suffering of the landless people who are often the bearers of a tradition of prudent care of the earth and its resources.
Walking as friends of Jesus, let us accompany marginalized communities all over the world that Jesus chooses to identify with in overcoming centuries of shame to find freedom and dignity. Let us befriend those friends of Christ who are often persecuted for choosing Christ and rejecting caste.
Enlarge and deepen our fellowship and friendship with you and with each other so that we will remain faithful and truthful to your calling.
Walking beyond barriers, let us build communities of unity and equality.
Grant us courage so that we can overcome cultures and structures that hinder us from recognizing the presence of God in each other.
Walking in solidarity with victims of discrimination and injustice, let us be shaken out of our apathy.
Encircle us with your love, as we affirm the image of God in each person we encounter. Enable us to do justice by breaking through social structures of inequality.
Walking in celebration, we come to see that the unity we share within our communities is a profound witness to the gospel of faith and hope. As we celebrate that unity, let us also rejoice in our rich diversities that reflect the life of the Trinity.
May we celebrate the wonderful diversity in human life, born from the struggles for dignity and survival amid oppression, and see in it a sign of your abiding faithfulness to your people.
In Christ’s name we raise all these prayers, O God.