In what unique ways do the Christians in the Middle East help us to understand our spiritual gifts?
Rev. Dr Pedroso Mateus: Our sisters and brothers who live in those countries and belong to different churches, bear witness to Christ’s compassion while facing a wide range of challenges such as persecution, at times martyrdom, daily humiliation and harassment in their occupied lands, violence in the name of religion, disasters, economic and political crisis. As they face those trials, they persevere in their faith and invite us to join them within a few days in their prayer for Christian unity. Let us join them and be open to what the Spirit may give us and teach us during those days about hoping amidst the temptation of hopelessness.
Do you think the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will carry even more special meaning for people worldwide as our time of extreme mutual vulnerability seems to lengthen?
Rev. Dr Pedroso Mateus: Prayer for Christian unity has its ultimate root in the contradiction between believing one Church and living among many that refuse communion to each other, which is a counter-witness to God’s mission of reconciliation and unity in Christ. In times in which neoliberal economics, the climate emergency and the digital revolution engender global inequalities, fear, isolationism and the dangerous rise of authoritarian politics, the need for a counter-cultural revolution of compassion (in the New Testament sense of Matthew 9:36) becomes an urgent response to our growing sense of mutual vulnerability. Prayer for Christian unity in communion with sisters and brothers facing many challenges takes the fresh meaning of inviting us to follow Jesus of Nazareth whose body was deeply touched by the oppression and marginalisation of those (like the victims of racism!) who die before the time of dying.
While the roots of the Week of Prayer go back more than 100 years, what fresh new aspects have you observed taking root over the last few years?
Rev. Dr Pedroso Mateus: Christians and churches in many parts of the world remain very attached to the practice of praying annually for Christian unity although they are doing so today under different circumstances and in different ways. In response to that, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches remain fully committed to cooperation in the joint preparation of resources for the Week of Prayer. This cooperation, started more than 50 years ago, is much cherished by the WCC. Concerning “new aspects,” one notices, in recent years, that local ecumenical groups attach a lot of importance to praying together primarily in response to local concrete situations. This may mean that for them the notion of Christian unity makes more sense in relation to mission and witness together rather than in relation to the need to overcome together past inherited divisions. The week of prayer is a beautiful experience of growing towards visible catholicity through inter-contextuality.