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Week of Prayer for Christian Unity


January 18-25, 2009 is the annual observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The theme chosen for 2009 is “That they may become one in your hand” and is rooted in the experience of the churches in Korea. In their context of national division these churches have turned for inspiration to the prophet Ezekiel, who also lived in a tragically divided nation and longed for the unity of his people. Yet above all, did not despair but proclaimed a message of hope: God's original intention for the renewal and the unity of God's people may yet be realized. Bishop Patrick R. Cooney has been involved in ecumenical affairs for many years and was one of the signing Bishops to the LARC (Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic) Covenant in northern lower Michigan. He is also a consultant to the USCCB’s Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and serves as co chair to the Roman Catholic-Reformed Consultation. Last fall, Bishop Cooney reappointed Fr. Joseph Graff to serve as ecumenical officer for the Diocese of Gaylord in the hope that the ecumenical efforts throughout the diocese would be reinvigorated and continue to grow. Fr. Graff had earlier served in the role for 12 years. As we observe this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we asked Fr. Graff about his vision of ecumenism and plans for the future in our diocese. What exactly is the role of the ecumenical officer? Fr. Graff: The ecumenical officer is primarily to be a support Bishop’s ministry in developing and extending relationships with other Christian and interfaith communities. In our area, the ecumenical efforts have primarily involved other Christian churches simply because there are fewer non-Christian communities than you would find in metropolitan areas. Why is ecumenism important to Catholics? Fr. Graff: Well, in my experience since Vatican II – and even before – but especially since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has gotten involved in ecumenism such that it is part of the basic fundamental ministry of the church. Officially it’s part of the very core ministry for the church now. In a practical sense, it is important because in the not too distant past, the lack of ecumenical involvement has split families and caused hard feelings in neighborhoods -- all because of a lack of understanding and appreciation for our relationships with Christ. It has both practical and personal ramifications for all Catholics and Christians. If you go further, ecumenism and interfaith relationships are really one of the fundamental things that can help bring us together. Through our mutual understanding of one another, we can help reduce the tension that exists in the world that allows things like terrorism to come into play. What do you hope to see happen in your role as ecumenical officer? Fr. Graff: So far, the emphasis in our area has primarily been the LARC covenant. I would like to work on rebuilding that relationship, particularly among local communities. I’d also like to re-establish an ecumenical commission with people who not only have some background and understanding of ecumenism, but also have a real commitment to the ecumenical movement. I would hope that these individuals could then be local enthusiasm builders. In the same way they say all politics is local, I think all effective ecumenism is local. We could then come together periodically and share, as well as gathering all those different sections of northern lower Michigan for prayer and sharing. I also want to begin some dialogs with the evangelical and free churches so that we can clarify some of the confusion that exists in what we think they believe and what they think we believe. The fundamental purpose of ecumenism is to work toward that physical unity for which Christ prayed and secondly to develop among all of us a mutual understanding and appreciation of our relationships with God. What are your thoughts are we begin this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity? Fr. Graff: This Week of Prayer is important because it is a focused time where we seek to bring the different Christian communities together in spirituality -- which is always the most fundamental and lasting effect of the ecumenical movement. The Week of Prayer calls for communities to pray together for the healing of the body of Christ. That openness can help remove a lot of stress and tension and open us up to the ultimate plan of God. I’ve never been to one of those opportunities where there wasn’t just a great feeling of tremendous love and mutual respect among those gathered. Unfortunately in many communities it is something that happens only once a year. If it was the first of many times of getting together during the year, I think it could do wonders for the community. It could also be an opportunity for dialog. I’ve been convinced for a long time that the spirituality is the heart of the ecumenical movement and it’s really where we need to begin.

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