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The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2024
January 18th to 25th

You shall love the Lord your God...and your neighbour as yourself

Luke 10:27

Goodsamaritan.jpg

Kevin Martin (Africa Magazine January/February 2024)

The annual international week of prayer for Christian Unity has been celebrated for over 100 years. It is celebrated in the octave leading up to the feast of the Conversion of St Paul, from 18 to 25 January. The suggested texts for each year are prepared in collaboration between the World Council of Churches, the Holy See and other Christian churches.

 

The key text from the Gospels is the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper when he prays ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ (John 17:20-21)

 

The Second Vatican Council (1964) gave strong encouragement for work towards unity with the statement that ‘division among Christian communities, openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.’

 

Pope Francis in 2016 had this to say: “…there cannot be an authentic search for Christian unity without trusting fully in the Father’s mercy. We ask first of all for forgiveness for the sins of our divisions, which are an open wound in the Body of Christ. As Bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I want to ask for mercy and forgiveness for the behaviour of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches which has not reflected Gospel values. At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if they, today or in the past, have been offended by other Christians. We cannot cancel out what has happened, but we do not want to let the weight of past faults continue to contaminate our relationships. God’s mercy will renew our relationships.”

 

Each year, a local Christian community makes an initial choice of a biblical text and for 2024 the local Christian churches of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso in West Africa, have presented us with the parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke’s gospel.

 

In recent years, ordinary people in Burkina Faso have suffered greatly from insecurity and terrorist attacks. However, rather than remain separated by traditional divisions “a degree of solidarity is emerging between the Christian, Muslim and traditional religions. Their leaders are working to find lasting solutions for peace, social cohesion and reconciliation.”

 

It is good to read the whole parable – perhaps each day during the Octave of Unity – and pay attention to how it challenges us. The original lawyer (a learned person) who heard the parable would have been very surprised to find that the person who showed themself to be a neighbour was not the priest (a learned person) nor the Levite (a learned person) but the Samaritan. The Samaritan people were not popular and not appreciated. In John’s gospel we hear Jews do not associate with Samaritans (John 4:9). The lawyer, the priest and the Levite knew all the right words, but the Samaritan showed the right actions.

 

We are called to move beyond our prejudices, our insecurities, our fears. We are called to show the love of God to all those we meet. In this way we can build peace, harmony, and in a very real sense contribute to the work of spreading the gospel. Our neighbours are not just our close friends and family. Our neighbours are also those ‘not like us’ who may be in need. We know how big the problem is in the world these days for refugees and asylum seekers, who are suffering like the man who fell among thieves and was left half dead at the side of the road. Can we hear the encouragement of Jesus, ‘Go and do likewise’? Listen carefully!                                            

For the complete programme for the Week of Prayer visit the website of the World Council of Churches:

www.oikoumene.org/resources

Or download the booklet here: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2024

Reflections for each day

 

January 18th, DAY 1: Help us, Lord, to have a life turned towards you

A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher”, he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk 10:25)

Prayer

God of life,

You have created us to have life, and life in all its fullness.

May we recognise in our brothers and sisters their desire for eternal life.

As we follow Jesus’ way with determination, may we lead others to you.

We pray in his name. Amen.

 

January 19th, DAY 2: Help me Lord to love you, my neighbour and myself with all that I am

The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself” (Lk 10:27)

Prayer

Lord, give us the grace to know you more deeply,

in order to love you with all of our being.

Grant us a pure heart, to love our neighbour as ourselves.

May the gift of your Holy Spirit

enable us to see your presence in our sisters and brothers,

that we may love each other with the same unconditional love with which you love us.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

January 20th, DAY 3: Lord, open our hearts to those we do not see

“Who is my neighbour?” (Lk 10: 29)

Prayer

God of love,

Who write love in our hearts,

instil in us the courage to look beyond ourselves

and see the neighbour in those different from ourselves,

that we may truly follow Jesus Christ,

our brother and our friend,

who is Lord, for ever and ever. Amen.

January 21st, DAY 4: May we never turn away from those in need

When he saw him, he passed by on the other side (Lk 10:31)

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ,

As we journey with you towards unity,

may our eyes not look away,

but be wide open to the world.

As we travel through life,

may we stop and reach out, bind up the wounded

and in so doing experience your presence in them:

you who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

January 22nd, DAY 5: Lord, help us see the wounds and find hope

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them (Lk 10:34)

Prayer

Gracious God,

You who are the source of all love and goodness:

enable us to see the needs of our neighbour.

Show us what we can do to bring about healing.

Change us, so that we can love all our brothers and sisters.

Help us to overcome the obstacles of division,

that we might build a world of peace for the common good.

Thank you for renewing your Creation

and leading us to a future which is full of hope:

you who are Lord of all, yesterday, today and forever. Amen.

January 23rd, DAY 6: Lord, turn our churches into ‘inns’, to welcome those in need

Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him (Lk 10:34)

Prayer

Father of love,

In Jesus, you showed us the meaning of hospitality,

by caring for our fragile humanity.

Help us to become a community

that welcomes those who feel abandoned and lost,

building a house where all are welcome.

May we come closer to one another as we offer the world your unconditional love.

This we pray in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

January 24th, DAY 7: Lord, show us how to respond to our neighbour

Jesus said: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour?” (Lk 10:36)

Prayer

Holy God,

your Son Jesus Christ came among us

to show us the way of compassion.

Help us by your Spirit to follow his example,

to serve the needs of all your children,

and so give united Christian witness to your ways of love and mercy.

We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

January 25th, DAY 8: Lord, may our fellowship be a sign of your Kingdom

Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37)

Prayer

Heavenly Father,

we thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the giver of life,

who makes us more open to each other, resolves conflict,

and strengthens our bonds of communion.

May we grow in mutual affection

and in the desire to announce the Gospel message more faithfully,

that the world may come together in unity

and welcome the Prince of Peace.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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