Week of Prayer for Christian Unity faces elusive challenges

Is would seem such a simple thing, to pray together ...

Continued from page 3

The Week of Prayer was the brainchild in 1908 of Spencer Jones, the Anglican Vicar of Moreton-in-Marsh Church in England and his friend and fellow Church of England clergyman Paul Wattson, together with Lurana White. In 1909, Wattson and White converted to Catholicism and cofounded the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement. Wattson and White believed that Christian unity could only be achieved by the other churches returning to the Roman Catholic fold – which remains the official Catholic position.

The event caught on during the 1930s through the work of a French Roman Catholic, Paul Couturier, who did not believe that it was necessary for all Christians to become Catholic. He taught that “we must pray not that others may be converted to us but that we may all be drawn closer to Christ.”

Although the strain between the various branches of Christianity is difficult much of the time, “The desire for Christian unity – which is the real spark behind the ecumenical movement – originates in the heart of Christ,” notes an editorial supporting the Week of Prayer in the Catholic magazine St. Anthony’s Messenger.

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Jesus’ fervent desire is expressed clearly in the prayer he uttered at the Last Supper. Speaking of the beloved disciples whom His loving Father entrusted into His care, Jesus prays, ‘Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are’ (John 17:11).

“A few verses later, Jesus expands this prayer with a rich addition: ‘I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are inme and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me’ (John 17:20-21).

“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.”

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