Our Christian Journey: A Path Toward Deeper Communion
Sr. Marianne Farina, CSC
Each year the Roman Catholic Church joins with churches and congregations throughout the world to celebrate a special octave for Christian Unity.
This year the Oakland Diocesan Commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs is sponsoring two special programs: a lecture by Dr. Thomas W. Devereaux on “Ecumenism: Where Are The Churches Today?” which will be held on Wednesday January 23, 2013 at 7:30 pm and hosted by St. Columba Church Parish in Oakland, California and a special prayer event, “Taizé on the Island: An Ecumenical Prayer Service for Christian Unity” organized by St. Joseph Basilica in Alameda, CA which will be held on January 25th at 8:00 pm.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a tradition that spans over 100 years. The inspiration for this special time of prayer began with the 1878 Anglican Lambeth Conference and the Roman Catholic Church of England which sought ways to promote Christian unity between their communities. At first, these groups joined in prayer one Sunday of Pentecost. Pope Leo XIII then suggested that the prayer be extended so that from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost Sunday Christians would pray for Christian Unity.
The modern-day observance, established in the United States in 1908, begins January 18th, Feast of the Confession of Peter and concludes January 25th, the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. The basis for this particular time comes from the writings of Paul Irenee Courtier, James Haldane Smith, Spencer Jones, and Lewis Thomas Wattson, founder of the Franciscan Friars of Atonement for Christians, who urged Christians around the world to work toward better ecumenical relations. The Roman Catholic Church's observance received another incentive when in 1964 the Second Vatican Council issued its Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) calling all Catholics to respond to a "desire for the restoration of unity among all the followers of Christ.” The Council also initiated the development of a directory that offers guidelines for ecumenical collaboration . In this same year, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (then College of St. Albert the Great) became the first Catholic institution to join the Graduate Theological Union , which in 1962 began a cooperative ecumenical program for theological study and pastoral training.
Today, there is a growing awareness of the need not only to promote harmony among Christian groups but also to develop mutual understanding among world cultures and religions. Yet, in serving with ecumenical dialogue groups and in my research and teaching in the United States, Asia and Africa, I believe that efforts to promote unity among Christians are a powerful witness to the sincerity with which we strive to create positive relations among religions and cultures. For division among Christians, as the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio states in its first sentence, “openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel to every creature” (n. 1). Moreover, as the Catholic Common Ground Initiative illustrates, honest discourse within parishes, academic communities and other Catholic groups is essential to developing respect among those who hold different, and sometimes competing, ideas or viewpoints. Ultimately, each of these efforts, fostering intellectual solidarity within our own communities and among others, Prayer for Christian Unity, and building bridges of understanding among world religions is essential to creating a “civilization of love,” which our Catholic teachings exhort us to do.
2013 Prayer for Christian Unity
Since 1968, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Vatican Council for Promoting Christian Unity have prepared common texts for Christians around the world to use during this special week. This year, the World Council and the Vatican asked the Student Christian Movement of India (SCMI) to prepare resources for the celebration. They chose the text from Prophet Micah (Micah 6:6-8)where the prophet is exhorted “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” The All India Catholic University Federation and the National Council of Churches in India focused on the poorest of the poor, particularly the Dalits in India and those who suffer from discrimination in our communities. To link up the eight days of prayer, they chose the metaphor of “walking” because Christian discipleship demands active, intentional and ongoing acts that promote justice. This metaphor also resonates with the Christian belief in "(the) Trinitarian God who accompanies humanity and walks into human history while inviting all people to walk in partnership.” The eight subthemes for the week relate to different modes of walking: from conversation to celebrating signs of Christian hope. The Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute has prepared additional material for the Christian Unity Week .
Looking at the origins of Christian Unity Week, Geoffrey Curtis, author of Paul Courtier and Unity in Christ, reminds us that Courtier's key insight was drawn from the Testament of Cardinal Mercier:
Similarly, Pope Benedict XVI stated in a recent gathering in Venice for the opening of the Year of Faith, that “Walking together towards this goal [of Christian unity] is a positive reality on condition, however, that the Churches and Ecclesial Communities do not stop along the way, accepting the contradictory differences as something normal or as the best that can be obtained. Instead it is in full communion in faith, in the sacraments and in the ministry that will become concretely evident the present and active power of God in the world. . .” In this way, Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders offer us both an inspiration and methodology for how we might “journey together” as we find ways to connect and collaborate, cognizant of Jesus' priestly prayer “that all may be one" (Jn 17:21).