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Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: background

Catholic World News - January 18, 2011

In 1908, Rev. Paul Wattson, then an Anglican religious in Graymoor, New York, began a Church Unity Octave with the support of Anglican and Catholic prelates, including Cardinal William O’Connell of Boston. The octave began on January 18, then the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter in Rome, and concluded on January 25, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

The following year, Wattson and other members of his Society of the Atonement became Catholic, and in 1910, Wattson was ordained to the priesthood. Observance of the octave spread rapidly, and in 1916, Pope Benedict XV, renaming it the Chair of Unity Octave, extended its observance to the entire Church. The Chair of Unity Octave is now known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Since 1966, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (formerly the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity) have jointly prepared material for the week of prayer. The theme of the 2011 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “One in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer (cf. Acts 2:42).”

In 2007, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, correcting those who would use ecumenism as a pretext for failing to proclaim the fullness of the Catholic faith, taught that

ecumenism does not have only an institutional dimension aimed at “making the partial communion existing between Christians grow towards full communion in truth and charity.” It is also the task of every member of the faithful, above all by means of prayer, penance, study and cooperation. Everywhere and always, each Catholic has the right and the duty to give the witness and the full proclamation of his faith. With non-Catholic Christians, Catholics must enter into a respectful dialogue of charity and truth, a dialogue which is not only an exchange of ideas, but also of gifts, in order that the fullness of the means of salvation can be offered to one’s partners in dialogue. In this way, they are led to an ever deeper conversion to Christ.

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