During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, to be celebrated 18-25 January, Christians across the world will pray and reflect on what it means to “show unusual kindness.”
This year’s theme, “they showed us unusual kindness,” is taken from Acts 28:2, and draws on the story of Paul finding safety in Malta after a shipwreck. The resources for the week have been prepared by members of different churches in Malta.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has been jointly organized by the World Council of Churches (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.
“The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has become quite simply a regular part of the faith year now for many Christians as we continue to pray, with Jesus himself, for the gift of unity,” reflected Rev. Dr Susan Durber, moderator of the WCC Faith and Order Commission. “It is always so moving to imagine Christians throughout the world from so many traditions sharing in these same reflections during the week.”
In Durber's own town, Taunton in the UK, the biblical story has a particular resonance, she said. “Christians have recently been brought together through a shared response to the needs of refugees from Syria,” said Durber. “In our island nation we have been challenged to act together, despite our present theological and political differences, to offer kindness and hospitality to others. The urgent needs of the world work to draw us together in unity, so that even while ecumenical enthusiasm seems to wane, it is blown into life again by the Holy Spirit!”
Msgr Prof. Hector Scerri, chair of the Malta Ecumenical Council, said he hopes the Week of Prayer will be a “wake-up call.”
“If we confess to our Christian origins, then it is our duty to welcome the stranger," Scerri said. "There are leaders now speaking about quotas and about building walls, while at the same time they have a crucifix or an icon sitting on their desk. These, our prime ministers, presidents in some countries, who occasionally display Christian symbols, but who at other times prefer to act as populists, to build walls. It doesn't add up.”