Rome (Italy). From 18 to 25 January 2023, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is celebrated, an ecumenical initiative in which Christians from all over the world belonging to different traditions and confessions, gather spiritually in prayer for the unity of the Church.
Officially initiated by the Episcopalian Reverend Paul Wattson in Graymoor, New York, in 1908 as the Octave for Church Unity, it is held annually between the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter and the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. In the southern hemisphere, where January is a holiday season, churches celebrate the Week of Prayer on other dates, for example at the time of Pentecost – as suggested by the Faith and Constitution movement in 1926 – an equally symbolic period for the unity of the Church.
Do good; seek justice (Is 1:17) is the theme of the Week 2023, chosen by a local group of the United States of America (USA) convened by the Minnesota Council of Churches, which prepared the subsidy for the animation of the week. The International Commission jointly appointed by the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity and by the Faith and Constitution Commission (World Council of Churches), met with delegates from the Minnesota Council of Churches in Bossey, Switzerland, September 19-23, 2021.
The local group that drafted the resource is made up of representatives of Minnesota clergy belonging to different generations and lay leaders who have worked on the front lines of the racial issue engaged in the region in spiritual and community care.
These are men, women, mothers, fathers, representatives of different religious experiences and spiritual expressions, both from the indigenous peoples of the United States and from immigrant communities, with a different ability to narrate and elaborate their own history. This diversity has allowed for a profound reflection and an experience of solidarity enriched by many different perspectives, in the hope that their personal experience of racism and denigration can serve as a testimony of the inhumanity that the children of God can show themselves capable of towards their neighbor. And with the deep inner desire that, as Christians who embody God’s gift of unity, we address and eradicate the divisions that prevent us from understanding and experiencing the truth of the common belonging to Christ.
The theme of the Week of Prayer 2023, taken from the book of Isaiah, is very timely. Isaiah taught that God asks for righteousness and justice, at all times and in all dimensions of life. Today’s world re-proposes, in many ways, the challenges of the division Isaiah faced in his preaching. God’s will to create a new humanity “out of every nation, race, people, and tongue” (Rev 7: 9) calls for the peace and unity that He has always wanted for creation.
The resource for the week thus updates the passage, “Isaiah, in his time, challenged the people of God to learn to do good together; to seek justice together, to help the oppressed together, to protect orphans, and defend widows together. The prophet’s challenge also applies to us today. How can we live our unity as Christians to face the evils and injustices of our time? How can we engage in dialogue and grow in mutual awareness, understanding, and sharing of lived experiences? Our prayer and our heart-felt encounter have the power to transform us, as individuals and as a community. Let us open ourselves to the presence of God in each of our encounters, as we ask for the grace to be transformed, to dismantle systems of oppression, and to be healed from the sin of racism. Together, let’s fight for justice in our society. We all belong to Christ.”
After the Angelus on Sunday 15 January 2023, Pope Francis, recalling this ecumenical time, announced a new event:
“We thank the Lord who faithfully and patiently guides His people towards full communion, and we ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten and sustain us with His gifts. The path for Christian unity and the path of synodal conversion of the Church are linked. I therefore take this opportunity to announce that an ecumenical prayer vigil will take place in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday 30 September, in which we will entrust to God the work of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. For the young people who will come to the Vigil there will be a special program throughout that weekend, organized by the Taizé Community. From now on, I invite brothers and sisters of all Christian denominations to participate in this gathering of the People of God.”
On 25 January 2023, at the close of the week of Christians, the Holy Father will celebrate Second Vespers in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. In addition, Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will carry out an ecumenical pilgrimage for peace in South Sudan, from 3 to 5 February 2023.