From left, Bishop Stephen Bouman and Bishop E. Don Taylor, the Evangelical Lutheran and Episcopal bishops of New York, and Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton celebrate a service at St. Peter’s Lutheran church in New York to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
From local churches in Abbotsford, B.C., giving their offerings to a local drop-in centre for youth at risk and to an AIDS charity in Africa, to inter-faith services among church leaders in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, Christians around the world commemorated the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with their own distinct events.
The Week of Prayer, which is traditionally celebrated from Jan. 21 to 28, revolved around the theme, Be Opened, taken from Mark 7:37: “He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” The theme called on Christians “to open their ears and hear what God is saying,” according to the Canadian Council of Churches, the largest ecumenical body in Canada representing 20 churches of Anglican, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions.
In Forth Worth, Tex., the Star-Telegram reported that local Christians commemorated the week by focusing on the needs of people in Africa, particularly in the Darfur region of Sudan, where hundreds of people have been killed in a civil war that has been raging since 1983.
In Winnipeg, a wooden cross symbolizing unity was moved from church to church, giving Christians a chance to visit other denominations’ places of worship. In the Middle East, an ecumenical celebration was held at the Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Beirut, while a local committee held a solemn prayer at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Madonna in Egypt, according to the Middle East Council of Churches. An ecumenical gathering was likewise held in Amman, Jordan, and in various regions of Syria.
In Rome, Pope Benedict XVI marked the end of the Week of Prayer with a celebration of vespers in the basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls, in the presence of representatives from other Christian churches and communities.
In a service held earlier that week, Pope Benedict said unity “is a gift from God and the fruit of the action of His Spirit.” He added: “The road to unity remains long and difficult, but we must not be discouraged, and continue our journey, relying on the sure support of Christ.”