The Christian journey: An ecumenical pathway
Sister Marianne Farina
Each year the Roman Catholic Church joins churches and congregations throughout the world to celebrate a special octave for Christian Unity. This year the Oakland Diocesan Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs is sponsoring two programs: a lecture by Thomas W. Devereaux on "Ecumenism: Where Are the Churches Today?" hosted by St. Columba parish in Oakland at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23; and "Taizé on the Island: An Ecumenical Prayer Service for Christian Unity," a prayer session organized by St. Joseph Basilica Alameda, which will be at 8 p.m. Jan. 25.
The "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" is a tradition spanning more than 100 years. The inspiration for this special time of prayer began with the 1878 Anglican Lambeth Conference and the Roman Catholic Church of England to promote Christian unity between their communities. They began by observing this special time on the Sunday of Pentecost. Later, Pope Leo XIII suggested that the prayer should extend from Ascension Thursday to Pentecost Sunday.
The modern day observance, established in the United States in 1908, begins each year on Jan. 18, Feast of the Confession of Peter, and concludes Jan. 25, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. It was the writings of Paul Irenee Courtier, James Haldane Smith, Spencer Jones, and Lewis Thomas Wattson, founder of the Franciscan Friars of Atonement for Christians, that emphasized how spiritual ecumenism among Christians is essential to worldwide evangelization.
Further incentive for the Roman Catholic Christian observance occurred when the Decree on Ecumenism (1964) of the Second Vatican Council encouraged Catholics to find ways to promote unity among Christians. Additionally, since 1968, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Vatican Council for Promoting Christian Unity have prepared common texts for Christians around the world to use during this special week.
This year the World Council and the Vatican asked the Student Christian Movement of India (SCMI) to prepare resources for the celebration. They chose the text from Prophet Micah (Micah 6:6-8) where the prophet is exhorted "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." The planners also added that current events require addressing the needs of the poorest of the poor in each of our communities. To link up the eight days of prayer, they noted that the metaphor of "walking" was chosen because Christian discipleship demands active, intentional and ongoing acts that promote justice. This metaphor also resonates with the Christian belief in "(the) Trinitarian God who accompanies humanity and walks into human history while inviting all people to walk in partnership." The Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute has posted on its website material to help parishes plan this year's octave based on the eight "journey-walking" themes (www.geii.org).
As the history of ecumenism has shown, the "Testament of Cardinal Mercier," serves as inspiration and method for promoting a deeper spiritual communion among Christians:
• In order to unite with one another, we must love one another.
• In order to love one another, we must know one another.
• In order to know one another, we must go and meet one another.
With this intention, the Oakland Diocese encourages all Christians to "go out to meet one another," to find ways to connect and collaborate, cognizant of Jesus' intention "that all may be one" (Jn 17:21).
(Sister Marianne Farina, CSC, is department chair of Theology at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Berkeley.)