JERUSALEM – From January 25 – February 2, 2020, Jerusalem Christians gathered daily for times of common prayer for the traditional “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity”, which began at the Holy Sepulcher and ended at the Greek-Catholic Church of the Annunciation.
The Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians, which is celebrated annually in January, opened at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Saturday, January 25, and closed on February 25 at the Greek-Catholic Church of the Annunciation. A time during which the faithful are invited to recall the prayer of Jesus to His disciples: “that all may be one so that the world may believe” (John 17:21).
In the northern hemisphere, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is celebrated from January 18 – 25. In Jerusalem, however, the Churches prefer to adopt another date, to accommodate the Armenian Church’s celebration of the Epiphany.
Each day, during this long week, the faithful of the various Churches of Jerusalem prayed with one voice for the unity of Christians worldwide, and particularly those of the Holy Land. Indeed, the Christian denominations are many in the territory of the Diocese of Jerusalem, which covers Palestine, Israel, Jordan, and Cyprus, for a Christian presence which represents 2% of the total population of this region.
In the Latin Patriarchate, prayer was held on Wednesday, January 29, in the co-cathedral where Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa preached a homily on the theme “bread broken for the journey.” With a certain severity, both in substance and in form, the Apostolic Administrator denounced the divisions and the hostilities which for centuries have overall plagued the Christian community. A behavior by which, according to him, the faithful, motivated by political and personal interests, “used” Jesus rather than “serve Him”.
“Currently, we are not yet at a point of sharing the Eucharist bread among us”, stated Archbishop Pizzaballa. There is still a long way to go to completely find ourselves.” On a more position note, the Apostolic Administrator hoped that, in a time and a way that the Lord alone knows, we could, like the first Christians, “come back to find ourselves fully and gather around Jesus.”
The evening event and the participation of all the Churches were, once again, of significant importance, in a land where the impressive number of chapels can give the impression of a divided number of a divided and vulnerable Christian community facing the challenges that arise. These ecumenical moments were shared with much emotion and joy, giving the feeling of being a united community and aware of the superiority of what unites more than what divides it. A unity that was expressed, once again in the common prayer through which all these Christians testified to their common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
This experience also allowed many faithful to discover the richness of the different rites that constitute Christianity in the Holy Land. Each evening a different denomination welcomed the prayer of unity in its Church. In addition to having a very strong spiritual experience, many pilgrims from the West were able to realize the universal character of their religion, through this journey which led them during a week from Church to Church.
The tradition dates back to 1908, when Paul Watson, an American Episcopalian priest invited Catholics and Anglicans to pray for unity around the Roman See during an “octave” (eight days) from January 18 (which was the feast of the Chair of Peter in Rome) to January 25 (the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul). In the mid-1930s, in Lyon, the too-Roman term of “octave” was transformed into “week”, an initiative of Father Paul Couturier, who wanted to extend the initiative universally to all Christians, and not limit it to Catholics only.
Since its official creation, much more recent than Father Couturier’s pioneering initiative, the event has reached its 53rd edition. Each year, an international committee – composed of representatives of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (Rome) and the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches (Geneva) – publishes a document on a theme prepared by an interfaith group of a country. It offers a biblical theme, an ecumenical celebration scheme, and daily prayers. The 2020 edition chose the theme of the New Testament verse “They showed us extraordinary hospitality” (Acts 28:2), allowing reflecting on the ecumenical virtues of hospitality.
Geoffroy Poirier-Coutansais and Filippo de Grazia
Week of Prayer 2020 – Holy Sepulchre
Week of Prayer 2020 – Anglican Church
Week of prayer 2020 – Armenian
Week of Prayer – Lutheran
Week of Prayer 2020 – Latin Patriarchate
Photos: ©Nadim Asfour /CTS
Week of Prayer 2020 – Cenacle
Week of prayer 2020 – Ethiopian Church
Week of prayer 2020 – Greek Catholic Church
Week of Prayer 2020 – Syriac Orthodox Chruch