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Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

01/09/2010

January 18-25, 2010 is the annual worldwide observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This practice was begun in the Episcopal Church at Graymoor in New York’s Hudson Valley by Father Paul James Wattson who co-founded the Franciscan religious congregations comprising the Society of the Atonement with Lurana Mary White. One of Wattson’s supporters, Reverend Spencer Jones, a rector of the Church of England, had suggested that a day of prayer for Christian unity be observed every year on the feast of St. Peter (June 29); instead, Wattson proposed the idea of a “Church Unity Week” beginning with the Feast of the Chair of Peter (at that time January 18) and ending on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25). First observed in 1908, Church Unity Week was eventually called “Church Unity Octave”, since there were eight days between the two feasts. In the 1930's, the name was changed to the “Chair of Unity Octave” to emphasize the role of the papacy in the union of the Christian churches. With the Second Vatican Council, 1962-65, an increasing number of Roman Catholics joined with their fellow Christians, and continue each January in common prayer for unity. By 1991, an observance called Ecumenical Sunday had become integrated into the week now known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Each year a theme and texts are prepared by an international group appointed by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The theme for the 2010 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is You are Witnesses of These Things. It comes from Luke's gospel Chapter 24 verse 48. This is also the theme which Scottish Christians have chosen to celebrate the centenary of the Edinburgh Mission Conference. In the ecumenical movement, the meditations often focus on Jesus' final discourse before his death. In this final testament the importance of the unity of Christ's disciples is emphasized: "That all may be one ... so that the world may believe." (John 17.21) During the 2010 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity the invitation is to reflect upon the whole of chapter 24 of Luke's gospel. Whether it be the terrified women at the tomb, the two discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus or the eleven disciples overtaken by doubt and fear, all who together encounter the Risen Christ are sent on mission: "You are witness of these things". This mission of the Church is given by Christ and cannot be appropriated by anyone. It is the community of those who have been reconciled with God and in God, and who can witness to the truth of the power of salvation in Jesus Christ. Mary Magdalene, Peter or the two Emmaus disciples will not witness in the same way. Yet it will be the victory of Jesus over death that all will place at the heart of their witness. The personal encounter with the risen One has radically changed their lives and in its uniqueness for each one of them one thing becomes imperative: "You are witnesses of these things." Their story will accentuate different things, sometimes dissent may arise between them about what faithfulness to Christ requires, and yet all will work to announce the Good News. The Eight Days During the 2010 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity you are encouraged to reflect each day on chapter 24 of Luke's gospel stopping at the questions which it asks: Jesus' questions to his disciples; the questions the apostles ask of Christ. Each of these questions allows us to highlight a particular way of witnessing to the Risen One. Each of them invites us to think about our situation of church division and about how, concretely, we can remedy that. We are already witnesses and we need to become better witnesses. How? By praising the One who gives us the gift of life and resurrection (Day 1); By knowing how to share the story of our faith with others (Day 2); By recognizing that God is at work in our lives (Day 3); By giving thanks for the faith we have received (Day 4); By confessing Christ's victory over all suffering (Day 5); By seeking to always be more faithful to the Word of God (Day 6); By growing in faith, hope and love (Day 7); By offering hospitality and knowing how to receive it when it is offered to us; (Day 8). For more information and materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, visit the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs or the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute.

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