The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity ended yesterday in Jerusalem. This is a more than 100-year-old initiative that aims to bring together Christian believers of all denominations in eight days of prayer for visible unity. Each year a theme is selected to inspire and guide the week of prayer. In 2024 the theme, taken from Luke’s gospel, was “You shall love the Lord your God…and your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:27
The traditional period in the northern hemisphere for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is January 18-25. In the United States for example, it ended last Thursday, January 25. In the southern hemisphere, where January is in the middle of summer vacation, churches often find other days to pray for Christian unity. In the Holy Land the week began January 20, to await the Armenian Christmas, which is celebrated on January 19.
The friars of the Custody of the Holy Land prayed together with members of the several Christian communities present in Jerusalem from January 20 to January 28, and the week bore an increased solemnity due to the conflict that is still ongoing in the region. This year’s WPCU was also a very important date for the Holy Land. This January marked the 60th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras, which opened a season of dialogue between Rome and the Orthodox world and paved the way for a realistic unity. The leaders of the respective Churches, who had not met since the Council of Ferrara in 1438-39, thus taking an important step towards reconciliation, marked by the mutual lifting of the excommunications that each church had placed on the other in 1054.
The Franciscans in Jerusalem honored the anniversary of this important ecumenical event by gathering in prayer with members and faithful of the other Christian denominations, moving to a different church each day to create the unity that this initiative aims at, and reflecting on the profound relevance of the theme chosen for this year, taken from the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. The central idea of this Gospel passage embodies the interrelationship between devotion to the divine and compassion for one’s neighbor, with a clear emphasis on crossing the boundaries of defining who qualifies as a “neighbor.” He makes a call for acts of kindness, mercy, justice and solidarity.
The Week of Prayer in Jerusalem began at Calvary, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and in the following days stopped at the Anglican Cathedral of St. George, the Armenian Cathedral of St. James, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, the Franciscan Church of Saint Saviour, the Upper Room, the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. George, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and finally the Greek Catholic Church of the Annunciation.