Preparations for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2019 

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins on Friday 18 January. It runs for a week, and culminates with the Feast of the Apostle Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles. Here in Rome, it is one of the major celebrations of the year, and a time in which the unity that the churches of Christendom already share is made visible, by our worshipping, studying, and witnessing together.

WPCU 2018In previous years the celebrations conclude with a Papal Vespers in the Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls, the burial place of the Apostle, at which the Pope officiates, and invites representatives of separated churches to participate, and to give a blessing, together with the Holy Father, at the end of the service. To see the enormous basilica fills with Christians from around the world, praying for and enacting the unity that Christ has won for us, is profoundly moving. This year, because the Holy Father will be participating in World Youth Day in Panama on 25 January, the Papal Vespers begins our celebrations. Photographs from and a report of the Vespers will be published here shortly after it happens.

Churches Together in Rome has a series of events planned for the week, including evensong services sung in St Paul’s Outside the Walls by the Romanian Orthodox, the Waldensian, and the Evangelical Lutheran churches, and a discussion on steps to visible unity hosted by the Centro Pro Unione on Piazza Navona, at which Dr Paula Gooder, one of the Anglican representatives to ARCIC III will be speaking. It will be, as always, a rich and challenging series of experiences.

Meanwhile, in preparation for the Week, the Lutheran World Federation will launch today, 16 January, a new document on Ecumenical Commitments. It summarises fifty years of progress in ecumenical relations and describes the Lutheran commitment to a broader, grass-roots participation in the search for unity of all Christians. 

As the document proposes ways in which local churches and communities can engage in a much more vibrant interaction with each other and with the global ecumenical processes, it would make very interesting reading alongside the recently published report of ARCIC III. Walking Together on the Way: Learning to be Church – Local, Regional, Universal describes a similar understanding of the church in all its expressions. 

As the Apostle exhorts us:

Above all, clothe yourselves with love,
which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
to which indeed you were called in the one body.
And be thankful.  (Colossians 3.14,15)

Justin Lewis-Anthony, 16/01/2019