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While distanced by Covid, Christians around the world join together in prayer for unity

Posted on: January 18, 2021 8:17 PM
A Crucifix at the Episcopal / Anglican Cathedral of Saint George the Martyr in Jerusalem
Photo Credit: Albin Hillert / WCC

The ecumenical Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18 to 25 January) is taking place against a backdrop of global lockdowns and restrictions on movement. The annual event is one of the largest annual prayer observances and is usually marked by churches of different denominations uniting in towns and cities across the world for seven days of joint prayer and worship services.

On its website, the World Council of Churches (WCC) says that “at a time when public health concerns put a limit on physical gatherings, it provides an opportunity for churches to come together by means of a typically Christian practice that long predates modern transport: prayer.”

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has been jointly organised by the WCC and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic Church since 1968. In the southern hemisphere, where January is a vacation time, churches often find other days to celebrate it, for example around Pentecost, also a symbolic date for unity.

Tasked with preparing the 2021 edition, the Community of Grandchamp in Switzerland chose the theme “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit” (John 15: 5-9). This allowed the community’s 50 sisters from diverse confessions and countries to share the wisdom of their contemplative life abiding in the love of God.

“It is not easy to always remain in Christ, to abide in his love,” says Sister Anne-Emmanuelle Guy, prieure of Grandchamp. “Daily community life is where I can verify where I stand with my love of others and of God. For how can I say that I love God if I do not love my sister, my brother living alongside me?”

The Interim Deputy General Secretary of WCC and director of its Faith and Order Commission, Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus, said that the prayer journey outlined in the Week of Prayer booklet can help Christians to stay connected as a community even despite limits on physical contacts to protect the most vulnerable. “Prayer often involves a kind of self-isolation, focussing our minds and hearts on the love of Christ”, he said, “but when we pray for unity, we enter into closer communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ.”