By Sister Wendy Ooi, fsp
SINGAPORE - This year there will be two opportunities for Catholics and Christians of different denominations to come together to pray for Christian unity. The first prayer service will take place on Thursday Jan 19, 2006 at the Church of St. Ignatius, while the second prayer service will be on Monday Jan 23, 2006 at the Toa Payoh Methodist Church (480 Lorong 2 Toa Payoh).
Both services begin at 8pm and are open to all. Catholics are encouraged to bring their Christian friends. Father Albert Renckens, SS.CC, one of the organisers, hopes that two venues this year will encourage more Catholics to participate.
"We should organise other opportunities for people to pray for Christian Unity," he commented. "Ideally we should do it five times, over five nights in the different districts in Singapore. This year we succeeded with two places. Next year, maybe more."
A worldwide observance, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is celebrated annually from Jan 18 to 25. The theme this year is: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." (Mt 18:20)
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"That they may be one as we are one." (John 17:11)
IN JOHN 17, Jesus prays to the Father for the unity of believers. The phrase "that they may be one" is repeated or rephrased four times (John 17:11, 21, 22, 23), indicating the importance of this petition to Jesus. Perhaps when he prayed this prayer, Jesus had in mind what was to become of his body of believers.
Since the Great Schism of 1054 which divided the once united Christian Church into the East (Orthodox) and the West (Catholic), the Catholic Church has seen further divisions in its history: the Protestant Reformation of 1517 initiated by Martin Luther, and the split of the Church of England from Rome in 1534 during the reign of King Henry VIII.
The separated Christian Churches experienced further sub-divisions. From the Lutheran branch grew the Anabaptists (1525), Presbyterians or Calvinists (1536), Congregationalists (1607) and Baptists (1607), with the latter branching further to the Adventists and Churches of Christ.
Within the Church of England or the Anglican (meaning "of England") Church, branched out the Methodists (1738) and from the Methodists branched out the Pentecostals (1901) which includes the Assemblies of God. After the American Revolution in 1789, the Anglican Church in the USA became known as the Episcopal Church.
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With so many divisions and sub-divisions, Christianity may appear to be in a sad, disunited, scandalous state. However, there is hope as more and more churches are involved in ecumenical activities. One significant worldwide ecumenicalevent is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. When Catholics and Christians around the world observe the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, they continue and, in a sense, realise the prayer of Jesus in John 17.
The observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity dates back to 1908. It was initiated as Church Unity Week by Rev. Paul Wattson, an Episcopalian priest in Graymoor, New York. Jan 18, the original feast of the Chair of St. Peter, was chosen to begin the Week which would conclude on Jan 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
Over the years, while the dates remain unchanged, the observance of the Christian Unity Week has evolved. More Catholics have been participating in it after Vatican Council II (1962-65). The latter's Decree on Ecumenism (1964) calls prayer "the soul of the ecumenical movement," and encourages Catholics to observe what has developed to be the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
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The Decree says, "Such prayers in common are certainly an effective means of obtaining the grace of unity, and they are a true expression of the ties which still bind Catholics to their separated brethren."
Since 1968, the theme and text for each year's observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity are chosen and prepared by representatives of the Pontifical (Vatican) Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches.
The theme for this year, prepared by the churches in Ireland, is Mt 18:20, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them". The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an important ecumenical event that Catholics are encouraged to observe at various levels.
Apart from participating in the organised prayer services with other Christian churches, prayers for Christian unity could also be initiated in parishes, church groups, neighbourhood groups, and religious communities. This would go toward fulfilling Jesus' own desire "that (we) may all be one." (Jn 17:21)
FOR PRAYER FOR Christian Unity resources, including an introduction and explanation of this year's theme, visit:
FOR A BIRD'S eye view of the similarities and differences between the different Christian denominations and the Catholic Church, visit: