Week of Prayer for Christian Unity faces elusive challenges
Is would seem such a simple thing, to pray together ...
BY: Rob Kerby
“Prayer is an important way to start any human project,” continues the St. Anthony’s Messenger editorial, “as the opening verse of Psalm 127 asserts: “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.” How much more does this apply to the urgent cause of building up the “House of Christian Unity”! Unless Christ helps build this house, we truly work in vain.”
This first celebration of Wattson’s Week of Prayer “took place in the chapel of a small Franciscan convent of the Episcopal Church, on a hillside 50 miles north of New York City,” notes the Messenger.
“Father Wattson and other members of the Atonement Friars and Sisters – and other Anglicans – felt that the Church of England should regain its Catholic identity by seeking some kind of ‘reunion’ with the Bishop of Rome. The Atonement Friars and Sisters found their answer for unity withRomeby entering into full communion in 1909.
“From the start, however, Father Wattson’s group drew opposition for his idea by choosing January 18 (then the feast of St. Peter’s Chair atRome) as the beginning of the annual prayer period.
“The ‘return to Rome’ approach predictably alienated many Protestant as well as Orthodox Christians.
“But as the decades passed, solutions were introduced that helped offset feelings of alienation. In the 1930s, for example, Couturier took a different tack. He advocated praying for the unity of the Church ‘as Christ willed it.’
“More difficulties were resolved in 1964 when the Second Vatican Council issued its Decree on Ecumenism. The Decree encouraged Catholics to ‘join in prayer with their separated brethren’ – and to recognize the spiritual gifts of other communities of Christians.
“Changes like these paved the way for a more cooperative spirit and a wider acceptance.”
Wattson had called the event the “Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity” – since it spanned eight days. In 1968, the name was changed to its current title.
How has it survived?
“Christians are supposed to be together!” writes James Loughram. “The movement among Christians promoting Christian unity, as everyone knows, is the ecumenical movement. It is the Church’s attempt to practice what Our Lord prayed for on the night before he died for us, ‘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’ (John 17:21).
“The Father will answer the Son’s prayer—we cannot do it on our own. The Father answers that prayer in the Holy Spirit, inspiring the hearts of believers to move away from needless division and towards unity.
“Now in its second century, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity calls Christians together in fellowship to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:12a, 13b-18). Praying together, we are reminded that we are truly sisters and brothers in one baptism. We speak to God together through Christ in the power of the same Holy Spirit. When we leave the services of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we hopefully experience a growth in spiritual fellowship and feel saddened