VATICAN CITY — When a group of German Christians was asked in
2014 to prepare materials for the 2017 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,
their choice of a "wall" as a symbol of sin, evil and division
explicitly referred to the Berlin Wall.
The German reflections on the power of prayer to bring down walls
and the Gospel call to reconciliation were adopted by the World Council of
Church's Faith and Order Commission and the Vatican's Pontifical Council for
Promoting Christian Unity and proposed to Christians worldwide for the Jan.
18-25 octave of prayer.
"The image of the wall is very current today — now more than
when they wrote the reflection," said Father Anthony Currer, who
coordinates the Vatican contribution to the week of prayer.
The U.S. political discussion of extending the wall along the
border with Mexico, Pope Francis' frequent admonitions about building bridges
rather than walls, the global refugee crisis — all of that makes the powerful
symbol of a wall even more potent, said Father Currer, an official at the
Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The expanding symbolism of the wall also shows the kind of
dynamic that the World Council of Churches and the Vatican are looking for when
they ask one very small group of Christians to try to design prayers and
reflections for the global Christian community.
The Faith and Order Commission and the pontifical council
alternate identifying communities to choose the Week of Prayer theme, draft a
worship service, come up with sub-themes and Bible readings for each day of the
octave and describe the ecumenical situation in their local community.
With input from international representatives and then approval
from the World Council of Churches and the Vatican, the material is sent around
"We deliberately produce the booklet in a boring format
because we do not expect anyone to pray from it directly," Father Currer
said. "It is not a prescribed text because adaptation signifies engagement
— it is creative and spiritual."
The local reflections are meant to be universally accessible and
eminently adaptable, he said. "When you do a Google search for the Week of
Prayer you should get material prepared locally," not just links to the
text sent out.
The theme for 2017 is: "Reconciliation — The love of Christ
Even before the celebrations began, work was underway to finalize
materials for the 2018 Week of Prayer with input from an ecumenical group from
the Caribbean, and Churches Together in Indonesia already has been asked to
prepare materials for the octave of prayer in 2019.
The long lead time gives Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and
Protestants around the world time to translate and adapt the materials to their
own local situations, cultures and styles of worship.
The German group was chosen to write the reflections for 2017
because this year marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the
Protestant Reformation, an event that tore apart the Christian community in the
But, Father Currer said, "this commemoration of the
Reformation acknowledges very much that our history is not just a history of
conflict; from the Second Vatican Council and the last 50 years of ecumenical
dialogue, it is also a story of coming back together in communion."
As Pope Francis showed when he traveled to Sweden in October for
ecumenical events kicking off a yearlong commemoration of the anniversary,
ecumenical prayer and dialogue "is focused on Christ, which is where we
unite," he said.
The pope participated in other major ecumenical events of prayer
and witness in 2016: He met in February with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill
of Moscow; traveled to Greece in April to visit refugees with Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople; and, along with Anglican Archbishop
Justin Welby of Canterbury, in early October, he commissioned pairs of Catholic
and Anglican bishops to work and pray together in their home regions.
"The things Catholics see the pope doing encourage them to
participate," Father Currer said.
The papal events also support the kind of prayer and hope that
Germans displayed on both sides of the Berlin Wall throughout the Cold War.
"The wall separating Christians seems to be equally
immovable and entrenched," Father Currer said. But the continued prayer of
Christians is "a way to show our hope and faith that God will bring his
church to unity."
Find out more
Locally, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will be
celebrated with a prayer service Jan. 24 at Mount Olivet United Methodist
Church, 1500 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington, at 7:30 p.m. Father Donald J. Rooney,
pastor of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield, will be the homilist.