Participants at last year’s GTA prayer service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, including Cardinal Thomas Collins, seated second from the left, pose for a photo. Photo courtesy Office for Promoting Christian Unity and Religious Relations with Judaism

Christian unity puts God’s love in action

  • January 12, 2024

This year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebrated Jan. 18-25, will have the full participation of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

A number of events are planned for the celebration that seeks to unite the various Christian denominations, including the annual GTA prayer service taking place Jan. 21 at St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Markham, Ont., where Toronto Archbishop Francis Leo and other Christian leaders will join in praying for the restoration of full visible unity willed by Jesus for the Church.

The archdiocese will be providing many opportunities for participation in the annual celebration, with special services and events being organized in collaboration with other churches, ecclesial communities and select organizations. This year’s events include the Toronto School of Theology Annual Service, the Friars’ Secondary Student Writing Contest and monthly prayer services for Christian unity from various ecclesial traditions. The observance is headed by a service for the Greater Toronto Area with attendance by various church leaders in the Greater Toronto Area. 

Apart from in-person services, many resources are made available across parishes, such as Biblical reflections, songs of worship and corresponding prayers.  

Each year’s theme and resources are prepared by a new host country in collaboration with an international committee from the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. This year, an ecumenical team from Burkina Faso in West Africa, facilitated by the local Chemin Neuf Community, was given the honour. This year’s theme stems from Luke 10:27 — “You shall love the Lord your God ... and your neighbour as yourself.” 

Fr. Luis Melo from the archdiocese’s Office for Promoting Christian Unity & Religious Relations with Judaism said this year’s theme draws inspiration from a specific precept of our faith. 

“Jesus’ command is linked to the Parable of the Good Samaritan which clearly illustrates God’s love in action,” said Melo. “We receive others as God has received us: going out of ourselves and our local ecclesial communities and sharing God’s transformative love in Christ.”

Traditionally, the formal time of observance for the tradition falls between the period of the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter on Jan. 18 and the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on Jan. 25. The week-long celebration marks a time for Christians of various denominations to practice their devotion to prayer for the full visibility of unity among Christians.

Melo noted that he likes to think that the timing of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is not by chance, as it occurs after the Christmas season, the Baptism of Jesus and the Feast of the Epiphany. 

The idea that the resources for each year’s events correspond with a selected Biblical text has been in practice since 1968, with the first being “To the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:14.) As an observance itself, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has been celebrated in the Catholic Church for over 115 years, beginning in 1908 as the Octave of Christian Unity. The idea of holding the prayers from Jan. 18 to 25 was recommended by Fr. Paul Wattson, who is remembered as an advocate for ecumenism after being received into the Catholic Church later in his life. 

Ecumenical events will carry on after January, with the Festival of Prayer 2024 acting as a continuation of the WPCU over the course of the year. The festival offers opportunities to celebrate various traditions through a shared unity in Jesus Christ, from the World Day of Prayer in March to Baptist Advent lessons and carols in December. The events are set to take place in different regional communities around the GTA. 

This year’s Festival of Prayer will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism, which gives thanks for “The Beauty of Holiness” which is reflected in 1 Peter 1:15-16; “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ ” 

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