Challenged by Christians from Brazil to strive for greater respect for religious and cultural diversity, churches in many countries are reflecting together on the gospel of John (4:7), “Jesus said to her: ‘Give me to drink’” as they celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The theme proposed by the Brazilian ecumenical team called together by the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil (CONIC), takes inspiration from the biblical gesture of sharing water with whomever arrives, as a welcome, something repeated in all regions of Brazil.
The week of prayer is traditionally celebrated from 18 to 25 January (in the northern hemisphere) or at Pentecost (in the southern hemisphere).
Since 1968, the production of the liturgical and biblical resources for the week of prayer has been jointly coordinated by the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on Faith and Order and the Roman Catholic Church through its Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Through this year’s theme of the week of prayer, Brazilian Christians are drawing attention to an important aspect of the ecclesial and religious situation in their country that transcends the Brazilian context. They note in the introduction to the prayer resources that “Brazil is living through a time of growing intolerance made manifest in high levels of violence, especially against minorities and the vulnerable: black people, the young, homosexual people, people practicing Afro-Brazilian religion, women and indigenous people”.
They further add that “overcoming intolerance in its various forms should be dealt with in a positive way: respecting legitimate diversity and promoting dialogue as a permanent path of reconciliation and peace in fidelity to the gospel”.
Prayers, commemorations and ecumenical services
Among a number of global observances of the week of prayer, Brazilian Christians were joined by the National Council of Churches in India, through an invitation of dialogue on water. The theme “water is right – water is life” was set out as an unavoidable concern for the faith communities to initiate a dialogue and prayerfully pledge to save water and care for the earth.
The need for overcoming divisions through unity was also recognized by the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI). While sharing the prayer material online, CTBI underlines the fact that “competition and violent discrimination lie beneath the surface of our lives”. Jesus challenges us “to acknowledge that diversity is part of God's design, to approach one another in trust and to see the face of God in the face of all men and women,” it says.
Invited by the Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, primate of the Church of England, members of Chemin Neuf, a Roman Catholic movement with focus on spiritual renewal and Christian unity, came to live at Lambeth Palace in order to share in the daily life of prayer. The Chemin Neuf community has launched a video prayer project for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The project includes videos from young Christians offering prayers for different churches.
This year’s prayer materials were also made available by the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC). Maria Simakova, co-ordinator for the CCC’s commission on faith and witness, told the Anglican Journal, “This image the Brazilian Christians are offering to world Christians and to Canadian Christians is an image speaking of complementarity; so to drink the water from somebody else’s well is the first step toward experiencing their way of being and being in communion.” She added that the theme is meaningful for CCC’s mission to promote unity and diversity.
As part of the week of prayer, an ecumenical service was also held at the Syriac Orthodox Church in Beirut, Lebanon, attended by Catholicos Aram I, head of the Holy See of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church, along with Archbishop Shahe Panossian, Prelate of Lebanon, among others.
Reflecting on the week of prayer on social media, the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said, “The unity of the Church we seek on our way is unity in the water of baptism, renewed at every well where we share life and the grace of God”.
“The unity in life means sharing our needs and the resources given by God,” he added.
Resources for the week of prayer are available in English, French, German and Spanish, and include an introduction to the theme. Local congregations are encouraged to adapt the theme in their own local liturgical, social and cultural contexts.
Materials prepared by Brazilian churches emphasize unity with diversity for week of prayer (WCC news release of 21 January 2015)