Ascension and Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

May 24, 2020

May 24.  Easter 7A and Ascension. In Southern Africa Ascension is celebrated on this Sunday.  This day is also the beginning of the WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY which will end on Pentecost.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

The beginnings of an annual commemoration for unity among Christian churches was already suggested in the 18th century.  In late 19th century a number of Christian churches began this prayer programme which was developed further over the years.   From 1964 the Catholic church participated in the ecumenical group and co-published the resources. A theme is chosen each year by a country or group of countries which highlights their religious history and the current ecumenical situation.

The 2020 theme They showed us unusual kindness” was chosen by the churches in Malta, an island in the Mediterranean sea not far from Italy.  Malta was blessed with the mission of the Apostle, Paul, after he was shipwrecked. In Acts 27 and 28, we read the detailed narrative describing the ‘providential’ shipwreck and the subsequent rescue of 276 individuals on the vessel who all made it safely to Malta. This historical journey is briefly described in the New Testament.   This narrative is a classic drama of humanity confronted by the terrifying power of the elements. The passengers on the boat are at the mercy of the forces of the seas beneath them and the powerful tempest that rages about them. These forces take them into unknown territory, where they are lost and without hope. Paul encouraged them after he had received a vision telling him they would not perish but their ship would be lost.

During its long and chequered history, Malta was invaded and ruled by many different nations and groups.   In recent times it has been a port where refugees fleeing from Africa and hoping to making their way to Europe landed.

The material was developed by the churches in Malta and jointly prepared with them and published by The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and The Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches. Visit  www.vatican.va.  Extensive resources for a full programme can be downloaded from https://ctbi.org.uk

The Southern African region has very many Christian denominations, beside other faith groups.  This week of prayer is relevant for families where very often members belong to different Christian churches although much in their beliefs is held in common.  Prayer for unity in faith is important for families too because a common faith and prayer life is a source of strength for their relationships. The account of the shipwreck and the fears and dangers the seafarers faced can be compared to a number of incidents in our day too.    Pope Francis led a prayer service and gave the special Urbi et Orbi blessing for the whole world on March 27 at the height of the corona virus pandemic in Italy and other countries. He used the gospel of Mark where Jesus calms the storm, reminding us that we are all in the same boat.

Day 1. Reconciliation. Acts 27:18-19,21. “We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle overboard… Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss’.”

Reflection. As Christians from different Churches and Traditions, we have unfortunately, over the centuries, accumulated abundant baggage consisting of mutual distrust, bitterness and suspicion. This can have a serious effect on family unity.

Prayer.   Forgiving God, set us free from the painful memories of the past, that wound our shared Christian life. Lead us to reconciliation so that, through the Holy Spirit we may overcome hatred with love, anger with gentleness, and suspicion with trust. We ask this in the name of your beloved Son, our brother Jesus. Amen. 

Offer a prayer to Our Lady.  

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