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The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

January 18, 2011

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This is an annual eight-day period observed from January 18th to January 25th, the feast of the Conversion of St Paul. At this time, Christians of various Churches come together to pray for the restoration of full unity among all Christian peoples of the world. The observance began in 1908, with the initiative taken by Lewis Wattson, an Episcopalian pastor in Graymoor, New York. Wattson wished to encourage Catholics and Anglicans to pray together for unity, in response to Jesus’s wish in John’s Gospel, “I pray that they may be one, Father !” For this purpose, Wattson started the ‘Church Unity Octave’. One year later, Wattson entered the Catholic Church and became an ordained priest. And in 1916, Pope Benedict XV extended the observance of the Unity Octave to the entire Church. In 1935, Abbe Paul Couturier of Lyons, France, changed the title of the Unity Octave to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, causing it to shed its heavily Catholic flavour of a “return to Rome”. Since the formation of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948, the week has been sponsored by its Faith and Order Commission. The Decree on Ecumenism of the Vatican Council II encourages all Catholics to participate in this week for Christian unity and to strive to remove the blocks and scandals of division, which sadly are part of our tradition. The key to realizing this is dialogue in its fourfold application: the dialogue of life, of work, of studies and of prayer. All of us can dialogue in some measure or other, and thereby help each other understand our common vocation as disciples of the Lord.
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