The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began yesterday (Wednesday) with an official inauguration service at the Church of Ireland parish in Taney in south Dublin. This year the event occurs while the Catholic bishops are in Rome at their ad limina meeting with the Pope, so no Catholic bishops will be present at ecumenical events during the week.
Although the Week of Prayer has been a low-key event in recent years, according to ecumenist and Benedictine monk Fr Martin Browne it “can still happen in your area” if there is the will.
“People can do the week of prayer without the showpiece marquee event in the cathedral,” Fr Browne told The Irish Catholic.
With the demise of conferences like the Greenhills Ecumenical Conference, focus on the Octave has reduced but the Benedictine priest insists that ecumenism is not “dead in the water”.
“Relationships between [individual] Christians and Churches are better and there is more co-operation between Churches on social issues,” he said. “The week of prayer can be artificial when people are [already] working together.”
What counted, said Fr Browne, was for people to pray for Christian unity this week. “The materials are produced each year. I would like the week to be part of consciousness of individual parishes and for them to use the materials each day, at Masses etc.”
This year’s theme is ‘Crossing Barriers’ with a special emphasis on the 500th anniversary of the German Reformation and the call to reconciliation. Material for the worldwide Octave was produced by the churches in Germany with its theme taken from Corinthians: “The love of Christ compels us.” (II Corinthians 5:14).
Fr Browne, who is a member of the International Joint Editing Committee, which signed off on the materials prepared by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the octave was taken more seriously by other Christian Churches “perhaps because they are smaller and are more used to working together”.
Another thing which may militate against the success of the Octave of prayer is its proximity to Christmas and the New Year. In the northern hemisphere, it runs from the feast of the Chair of Peter (January 18) to the feast of the Conversion of St Paul (January 25). But there is “no problem with changing the date if a particular country decides to do so” says Fr Browne. In the southern hemisphere the Octave is observed around Pentecost.
In Dublin, the week of prayer concludes on January 25 with an ecumenical Taizé prayer service in Christchurch cathedral at 7.30pm.
During the weekdays of the Octave, the Carmelite monastery in Kilmacud, Dublin will host an evening prayer service each day at 4.30pm with reflections coming from different Christian traditions.