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Breaking down walls

Irish Jesuits and colleagues will be asked to take part in the upcoming Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 18-25 January. Each Jesuit community, school and ministry will receive a copy of the Week of Prayer booklet entitled ‘Crossing Barriers,’ along with a letter from Brian O’Leary SJ, the province co-ordinator for ecumenism, outlining the purpose and importance of the Week of Prayer for Christians and the call it makes upon us.

The Council of Churches in Germany (ACK) have produced the material for this year’s Week of Prayer and on the occasion of the 500th anniversary year of the beginnings of the Reformation, they have chosen the theme: ‘Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us’. (2 Corinthians 5:14-20). A committee comprised of ten members representing different churches met three times in 2014/2015 to develop the necessary texts. The material they have provided places particular emphasis on the ecumenical worship service for the Week while at the same time commemorating the Lutheran Reformation and focusing on the pain of the subsequent deep divisions which afflicted the unity of the Church. They see the anniversary and the Week of Prayer as an opportunity to take steps toward reconciliation.

In his introduction to the ‘Crossing Barriers’ booklet, BobFyffe, General Secretary of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, says we all need to pray for a greater vision of a united Church. “With so many global issues confronting us all,” he says, “the churches’ witness needs to be strong and clear in its call for unity.”

He notes in particular the challenge of confronting difficulties such as climate change, migration of peoples and global conflict. “In a European context  we see many of these issues finding expressions on our streets and these indeed are a cause for prayers and unity.”

The prayers for each day of the week and the Sunday worship was written by an ecumenical group from Britain and Ireland.  For their part, ACK say that the biblical texts they have chosen emphasize the fact that reconciliation is a gift from God who reconciled us to Himself. As a result of God´s action, those who have been reconciled in Christ are called in turn to proclaim this reconciliation in word and deed: “The love of Christ compels us”. As the members of ACK note in the material they have provided, “Those who have been reconciled in Christ are called in turn to proclaim this reconciliation in word and deed, to all the world. The world needs ambassadors of reconciliation who will break down walls, build bridges and open doors to new ways of life… With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany experienced  how a seemingly insurmountable wall could be brought down. The fall of this wall is a symbol of hope that with the love of God nothing is impossible.”

They add that they found the origin of their chosen theme in Pope Francis’ 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel)  regarding the quote: “The Love of Christ Compels Us” (Paragraph 9). The theme finds its scriptural context in 2 Corinthians. 5:14).

The traditional period in the northern hemisphere for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is January 18-25. Those dates were proposed in 1908 by Servant of God, Fr. Paul Wattson, SA Founder of the Society of the Atonement, to cover the original days of the feasts of the Chair of St. Peter (January 18) and the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25) , and like the Berlin wall, have their own symbolic significance.