Catholic Culture Resources
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Catholic World News

Background: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

January 18, 2021

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. In 1916, Pope Benedict XV, renaming it the Chair of Unity Octave, extended its observance to the entire Church.

The octave is now known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Since 1968, the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (formerly the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity) have jointly prepared materials for the week of prayer.

The theme of the 2021 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit“ (John 15:5-9), and the biblical text is John 15:1-17. This year’s materials were developed at the Community of Grandchamp in Switzerland.

“Tomorrow is an important day: the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins,” Pope Francis said on January 17. “This year, the theme refers to Jesus’s counsel: ‘Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit.’ And Monday, 25 January, we will conclude it with the celebration of Vespers in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, together with representatives of other Churches and Christian communities present in Rome. In these days, let us pray together so that Jesus’s desire might be accomplished—that all may be one: unity, that is always superior to conflict.”

In 1964, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council issued its Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), and in 1995, St. John Paul II issued Ut Unum Sint, an encyclical letter on commitment to ecumenism. In a 2007 doctrinal note, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the 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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