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Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: The Churches of Jerusalem respond to the invitation

Published: January 28 Mon, 2019

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JERUSALEM – This year again, the Christians of Jerusalem gathered in common prayer on the occasion of the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity”, which began on Saturday, January 19, at the Holy Sepulcher and ended Sunday, January 27, at the Greek Catholic Church of Annunciation, in Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, according to tradition, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is celebrated starting from the day of Armenian Christmas, on January 19th. This tradition dates back to 1908, the year in which a priest named Paul Wattson gathered all the American Christians present in Rome before the Holy See, for an “octave” of prayer. About twenty years later, in Lyon, France, the “octave” became a “week” on the initiative of Father Paul Courtrier, who intended to extend this initiative universally to all Christians, and not only Catholics.

To date, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity supports this initiative through the work of the World Council of Churchs, which meets annually to prepare precisely the week of prayer for Christian unity, designating, from time to time, a main theme inspired by a passage from the Bible. This year the chosen verse was: ” Justice, justice alone shall you pursue”, taken from Deuteronomy (16, 20), a most significant fragment in this Earth so full of paradoxical injustices and manifest iniquities.

Generally the week of prayer ends with a solemn ceremony celebrated by the Holy Father in Rome. This year, however, given the commitment of the Pope to Panama for the World Youth Day, the Bishop of Rome opened the event with a mass in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, for this time inaugurating the week of prayer instead of closing it. Starting from the words of Deuteronomy, Pope Francis in his homily spoke of justice in terms of fairness, solidarity and sharing: “When society is no longer based on the principle of solidarity and the common good, we witness the scandal of people living in utter destitution amid skyscrapers, grand hotels and luxurious shopping centres, symbols of incredible wealth. We have forgotten the wisdom of the Mosaic law: if wealth is not shared, society is divided.”

Moving from one unjust society to another, not the one divided between rich and poor but between oppressors and oppressed, even the Holy Land, with its hunger and thirst for justice, welcomed with enthusiasm and faith this exhortation to prayer, to union, to peace. The ecumenical significance of this event has involved all the confessional realities of Jerusalem which, during these days, merge together to pray to one voice for the unity of Christians all over the world, especially those of the Holy Land. As is known, in the territory of the Diocese of Jerusalem, which embraces Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Cyprus, the Christian presence is about 2% of the total population. This event then assumes a fundamental role in fostering cohesion and avoiding divisions that would damage an ancient community rooted in the territory, such as the Christian one.

The turnout of the faithful of all denominations is very numerous. The impression we have is that of an experience of communion that is enormously significant for all the Christian realities and for every single believer; an event that, this year too, expressed the will of Christians to be witness for all citizens, united in Christ in common prayer.

Filippo De Grazia

Photos: © and ©Nadim Asfour/ CTS

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Anastasis (Holy Seplucher), Calvary

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Anglican Cathedral of St. George

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Armenian Cathedral of St. James

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Lutheran Church of the Redeemer

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – St. Saviour Church

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Cenacle

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – St. Anthony’s Church, Coptic Orthodox

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – Greek Catholic Church of the Annunciation