PORTLAND---The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, a response to Christ's prayer “that they all may be one" (John 17:21), is an eight-day period of prayer in which all Christians are invited to participate on January 18-25.
This year’s theme is “We Saw the Star in the East, and We Came To Worship Him” (Mt 2:2). The theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2022 was chosen by the Middle East Council of Churches. More than ever, in these difficult times, we need a light that shines in the darkness and that light, Christians proclaim, has been manifested in Jesus Christ.
A special section has been created on the diocesan website for the commemoration. There, you will find a variety of information and resources in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Arabic. To visit the section, head to www.portlanddiocese.org/week-prayer-christian-unity.
“During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we ask God to help Christian Churches, and all people of good will, to seek common ground and an appreciation for each other,” said Bishop Robert Deeley. “As Christians, we share in our appreciation for Scripture as the Word of God, our faith in the Trinity, our call to help those in need, and our respect for the dignity of the human person. This common witness to our faith gives us a clear direction for our lives, a shared path that begins and ends with Jesus.”
The history of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity dates to the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1894, Pope Leo XIII encouraged the practice of a Prayer Octave for Unity and encouraged Catholics to recite the rosary for the intention of Christian unity. A little more than a decade later, two Americans, Father Paul James Wattson and Sister Lurana White, co-founders of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, started a prayer movement to pray for the return of non-Catholic Christians to the Holy See. The two were Episcopalians who converted to Catholicism. In 1907, a conversation between Father Wattson and an English clergyman, Reverend Spencer Jones, led Reverend Jones to suggest that a day be set aside for prayer for Christian unity. Father Wattson agreed but proposed an octave of prayer between the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair on January 18 and the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25. The first "Church Unity Octave" was observed in 1908.
After Father Wattson and Sister Lurana became Catholic, Pope Pius X gave his blessing to the Church Unity Octave, and in 1916, Pope Benedict XV extended its observance to the universal Church. While the Catholic Church adopted the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it was Abbé Paul Couturier, a priest of the Archdiocese of Lyons in France, who, in 1935, helped extend its reach to other Christian faiths. He promoted a "Universal Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" on the basis that it was the Lord's will: “Our Lord would grant to his Church on earth that peace and unity which were in his mind and purpose, when, on the eve of his Passion, he prayed that all might be one.” It was a successful way of uniting all Christians in the same prayer.
The week’s original purpose was to present visible connections across denominations through common prayer, the key that opens our hearts to Christ’s desire for unity. Such a purpose is certainly still pertinent in our time.