FRIDAY, JANUARY 18: Christians turn to India for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2013, which begins today and continues for an Octave (eight days). This international ecumenical observance encourages churches to switch pulpits, learn another point of view and join hands in prayer; the World Council of Churches joins with partners each year to select a text recommended for Christian churches around the world. This year, participants turn to the Dalits in India for evidence of how the theme can be carried out: “What does God require of us?” (Micah 6:6-8).
Nearly 80 percent of Indian Christians have a Dalit background, and due to India’s caste system, the Dalits are considered “outcasts.” Socially marginalized and underrepresented in politics, the communities where Dalits live are are some of the most polluted and poorest locations in India. (Read more from the Catholic Register.) Organizers this year ask Christians both in India and outside to close the gaps, work for justice and reach out for unity among all Christians. In a recent speech, Pope Benedict XVI asked that everyone pray, “persistently asking God for the great gift of unity between all of the Lord’s disciples.” (Watch and read more from Rome Reports.) Following the speech, the Pope sent a resounding Tweet: “If we have love for our neighbor, we will find the face of Christ in the poor, the weak, the sick and the suffering.”
Celebrating its 105th year, the Week of Prayer began in 1908 as the Octave of Christian Unity. Popes further blessed the idea, but it didn’t catch on for the majority of Christianity until 1948, with the founding of the World Council of Churches. (Wikipedia has details.) Two decades later, the first official use materials were created, and today’s materials can be downloaded for free. (The Vatican also provides the documents.)
As January marks vacation time in the Southern Hemisphere, an alternative week is sought for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; it usually falls around Pentecost. Next year, Canadians will choose the readings for the Week of Prayer 2014.