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May they all be one!

“May they all be one!” (John 17:21) This what the Lord Jesus prayed during the Last Supper. With the perspective of later historical developments, he had good reason to make this prayer. The Second Vatican Council noted that the Christian denominations “differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ himself were divided. Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalises the world and damages the holy cause of preaching the gospel to every creature” (No. 1, Decree on Ecumenism [Unitatis Redintegratio]). 

The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity aims to achieve communion and unity in the Lord among the various denominations through prayer. This international observance was first proposed by an Anglican vicar and a Catholic priest in the early 20th century. Throughout the 1960s, the time of Vatican II, ecumenism built up much momentum. The Catholic Church and other Christian Churches interacted frequently and even published an ecumenical version of the Bible. However, since the 1990s, things have been relatively sluggish. 

For many Christians, Christian unity is merely a prayer theme for a week in the month of January; perhaps a simple addition to the intentions lifted up in their personal prayers. If we hope to attain in reality the unity that Jesus prayed for, ecumenism should happen, not only at the diocesan level, but with the faithful in the deaneries, parishes and the different lay organisations. We must cast aside the misconception that these efforts only concern the bishop or the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission; this seriously hampers the work of bringing about unity.

We can encourage parishioners to interact with other Christian groups in order to deepen their faith and promote mutual understanding. Once these encounters are underway, they can invite pastors, ministers or preachers as guests at Sunday Mass, share their faith life, and engage in frank and open dialogue after the Eucharist. 

Based on this groundwork, we can promote the Week of Prayer at the deanery level by inviting interested parishes to take turns in organising encounters. Apart from the January Week of Prayer, the eve of the Pentecost is a good time to focus on prayer for Christian unity. 

Jointly-organised social concern activities can also be undertaken— from petitions and signature campaigns to fund-raising activities for charitable causes. All of these can help Christians present a united front to the world. 

While it should be acknowledged that disparities and differences remain between Christian denominations, efforts at dialogue, together with joint undertakings, can boost mutual understanding and acceptance.

The world is disintegrated and divided. Only when those who believe in the same Jesus Christ achieve oneness, will the world see that unity between peoples and nations is possible. It is imperative that people love one other. 

Jesus Christ prayed, not just for Christians, but for all. Therefore, let Christian unity be the herald and prefiguration of unity for all the world. SE