Week of Prayer for Christian Unity seeks to promote ecumenism

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by Therese Horvat
sourdough special

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – During this time of intense polarization and division on many issues, Catholics are invited to join in prayers for unity among the traditions of the Christian church. The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which aims to foster ecumenism among Christians, is celebrated this year from January 18-25.

Since 1993, Sister Susan Wood, Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, theologian, university administrator and author, has served on national and international ecumenical commissions and study groups. She defines ecumenism as “the effort to achieve full visible unity among Christians and to increase what we share in common”.

“It doesn’t mean that we are erasing historical differences,” she said, “but rather that we are overcoming the animosity and division that have kept us suspicious of each other. We reflect on rich differences and become a community of reconciled differences.

Uniformity among Christian denominations is not the goal of ecumenism, nor is the perspective held in the past that all churches and all Christians should become Roman Catholic.

“We share faith in Jesus and his word, and we need to find the categories that transcend our differences,” Sister Susan said. “Ecumenism is organic and dynamic.

She cites the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in which she participated from 2008 to 2019. Appointed by the Vatican as a member of the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, Sister Susan participated in an in-depth and insightful study of the history of the two religions. traditions, divisions and efforts to overcome them.

The resulting document, “From Conflict to Communion”, demonstrates that Lutherans and Catholics are “on the road” on this journey of faith and that they share beliefs – among which, that baptism is a basis for ‘unity. The document identified ecumenical imperatives for the future. These imperatives include that Catholics and Lutherans should commit themselves to striving repeatedly toward the goal of seeking visible unity, “to rediscover together the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time” and “to bear witness together of God’s mercy in the proclamation and service of the world” (“From Conflict to Communion”, 2013).

Sr. Susan emphasized that dialogue is an essential component of working towards unity.

“We have to talk to each other and understand where the other person is coming from,” she explained. “We must maintain communication in our work to strengthen Christian community with each other.”

From personal experience, Sister Susan also learned that ecumenism is about relationships. She developed personal friendships with people from different church traditions through her ecumenical work. It opens doors to sharing, understanding and healing divisions.

Sister Susan said that many marriages today are between people of different churches or faiths; couples experience ecumenical marriages. This is another concrete reason to work for Christian unity and to seek practical ways to share the good of the different church traditions in people’s daily lives.

Prayer is another key effort that supports ecumenism and the unity movement. Just as Jesus prayed “that they might all be one” (Jn 17:21), Christians today are encouraged to pray for unity among their churches throughout the year, and especially during Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

While the involvement of parishes and local churches in ecumenical initiatives often depends on the efforts of individual priests and pastors, Sister Susan believes that working for unity is an important ministry.

Although the global pandemic has disrupted the studies in which she is involved, Sister Susan remains active in Roman Catholic dialogue with the Baptist World Alliance and with the Orthodox tradition. In addition, she teaches a doctoral seminar on ecumenical method and achievement at Regis College of the Toronto School of Theology in Canada, where she is academic dean and professor of systems theology.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

• When: January 18 to 25

• Cosponsors: The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

• Theme: “We have seen the star in the east and have come to adore him” (Mt 2:2), emphasizing Epiphany and God’s invitation to all humanity to a new alliance in the incarnation of Christ

• Theme development: Ecumenical groups in different countries are invited to produce the theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity each year. The Middle East Council of Churches has selected this year’s theme from the churches in Lebanon. This country is facing extremely difficult, economically disastrous and stressful times. The power of prayer in solidarity with those who suffer is a manifestation of Christian unity and a sign of communion. (Taken from the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute website; see below.)

• Prayers, resources, more information:
• United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
• World Council of Churches
• Ecumenical and Interfaith Institute of Graymoor

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