Every year, from January 18 to 25, Christians around the world observe the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This is a special time to pray for the visible unity of the Church, as Jesus prayed for his disciples: “that they may all be one… so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has a long and rich history, dating back to the late 19th century, when various initiatives and movements emerged to promote the unity of Christians across denominational boundaries. In 1908, an American Episcopalian priest, Paul Wattson, proposed a “Church Unity Octave” to be celebrated from January 18, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, to January 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. In 1916, Pope Benedict XV extended the observance to the whole Catholic Church. In 1926, the Faith and Order movement of the World Council of Churches began to publish prayer materials for the Week of Prayer. In 1968, the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity began to jointly prepare and publish the prayer resources, in collaboration with local ecumenical groups from different regions of the world.
The theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2024 was selected by the Christian Churches in Burkina Faso, coordinated by the community of Chemin Neuf, a French Catholic and ecumenical community of vowed and lay people and its local community in Burkina Faso. The theme, taken from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, reflects the connection between love of God and love of neighbor with a particular concern for challenging the boundaries of who is considered “neighbor”. In this pericope, Jesus is questioned as to the path to eternal life. His answer is not to only observe the commandments, but to also imitate the love of God in the giving of self for another. It is a call for charity, mercy, justice, and unity.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an opportunity for Christians of different traditions and confessions to come together in prayer, worship, and fellowship, to express their common faith in Christ and their desire for reconciliation and communion. It is also a chance to learn from each other, to appreciate the gifts and insights of other Christian traditions, and to collaborate in the service of God’s mission in the world. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a witness to the world of the hope and joy that Christ offers to all who believe in him.
If you want to participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, you can find the prayer materials and resources on the websites of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. You can also join or organize ecumenical prayer services or events in your local community, church, or school. You can also pray individually or with your family or friends, using the daily scripture readings and reflections provided by the prayer materials.
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