Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy offers a reflection on Pope Francis’ January prayer intention for Christian unity.
This month has, for many decades, signaled the need for prayer for Christian unity. Thus Pope Francis asks us to pray that all Christians may be faithful to the Lord’s teaching by striving with prayer and fraternal charity to restore ecclesial communion and by collaborating to meet the challenges facing humanity.
History of Prayer for Ecumenism
How did this tradition of prayer for ecumenism begin? Two American Episcopalians, Father Paul James Wattson and Sister Lurana White, co-founders of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, were totally committed to the reunion of the Anglican Communion with the Roman Catholic Church. As such, they started a prayer movement that explicitly prayed for the return of non-Catholic Christians to the Holy See. Needless to say, such an observance would attract few of our separated brothers and sisters. This idea of a period of prayer for Christian unity grew from the suggestion of one day of prayer into an octave of prayer between the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair on January 18 and the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25. (The Feast of the Chair of Peter has since been moved.) When Fr. Paul and Sr. Lurana became Roman Catholics, Pope Pius X gave his blessing to the Church Unity Octave and in 1916, Pope Benedict XV extended its observance to the universal church. So we see that the root of this week of prayer is truly Franciscan.
Praying for Christian Unity Today
In our own day, Pope Francis has spoken about this practice of praying for unity. He explained that this Week of Prayer invites us to “reflect on, and bear witness to, our unity in Christ as God’s People.” He went on to say, that all those baptized, reborn to new life in Christ, are brothers and sisters, despite, “our divisions.”
Continuing on the theme of baptism, he said that it meant rediscovering the source of mercy, which is a source of hope for all, and he underlined, “no one is excluded from God’s mercy.”
Is there someone of another faith whom you could join in prayer and/or worship this month? Can you invite someone to join you at Mass? How about doing some reading about world religions? We cannot hope for the peace that unity brings if we are without understanding. Do some reading about St. Francis’ time with the Sultan and the practices he brought back to his community.
Concluding his thoughts, the Holy Father prayed that during this Week of Prayer, the Lord would help all Christians to grow in that unity “which is greater than what divides us,” adding, “together, may we respond to his call to share with others, especially with the poor and forgotten of our world, the gift of divine mercy which we ourselves have received.