We reach the final day of the octave of prayer for Christian Unity (18 to 25 January 2023). The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (WPCU) is celebrated, as an ecumenical initiative in which Christians from all over the world belonging to different traditions and confessions, gather spiritually in prayer for the unity of the Church. The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer was taken from the book of Isaiah, Do good; seek justice (Is 1:17) is very timely. Isaiah taught that God asks for righteousness and justice, at all times and in all dimensions of life.
Day 8 of Prayer Octave – Restoring hope through the work of justice
In facing up to the harm caused by racial injustice, we hold before us the promise of God’s love and the healing of relationships. The Prophet Isaiah speaks of God gathering and comforting all people who have been lost and have experienced suffering. In the Magnificat, Mary reminds us that God never abandons us and that God’s promise to us is fulfilled in justice.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Stephen was a young man growing up in south-east London with big dreams for his future. His life was tragically cut short when, on 22 April 1993, he was murdered in an unprovoked racist attack. The pain of his family and the wider community was compounded by serious failings in the investigation of this crime. Stephen’s mother, (Baroness) Doreen Lawrence, said:
“Justice for Stephen is about all of us, every one of us, in society having justice. There are still too many young people who do not have a sense of hope, who just don’t get the chance to live their dreams. I want all our children and young people to feel inspired, be confident and have hope in their own future. We are building hope, but there is more to do.”
It is easy to feel hopeless as we are time and again reminded that we live in a fractured society that does not fully recognise, honour, and protect the human dignity and freedom of all human beings.
An alignment of love of God, love of all our human family and love of justice are deeply needed for hope and healing. God calls us to continually live into hope, trusting that God will be with us in the midst of our individual and communal liminal space – on the threshold of what has been and what is, while yearning for what is yet to be.
Fr Bryan Massingale, one of the world’s leading Catholic social ethicists and scholars in racial justice, reminds us of his hope and challenge:
“Social life is made by human beings.
The society we live in is the result of human choices and decisions.
This means that human beings can change things.
What humans break, divide and separate,
we can with God’s help,
also heal, unite and restore.
What is now does not have to be.
Therein lies the hope and the challenge.”
please teach us to go inward
to be grounded in your loving spirit
so we can go outward in wisdom and courage
to always choose the path of love and justice.
Go and Do – some suggestions:
- Racial justice will only take root in churches if they take the issue seriously. What tangible changes could your church make to connect to the global movement for racial justice?
- Racial Justice Sunday is marked annually on the second Sunday in February. Encourage your church to celebrate this day, which is committed to fighting for justice, equality and dignity in church and society.
- Stephen Lawrence wanted to become an architect. Why not mentor or support a teenager like Stephen, so that she or he will be able to realise their dreams.
About this year’s resource
This year’s resources are inspired by the experience of our Christian sisters and brothers who are wrestling with the issue of how racism creates a divided society and a divided world. We pray for Christian unity when Christians are part of unjust and racist structures. For the churches of the US State of Minnesota, the murder of George Floyd and the institutional racism it embodied provide the focus for their prayer for unity and justice. They place before us the prophet Isaiah’s challenge to do good and seek justice (Isaiah 1:17).
The local group that drafted the resource is made up of representatives of Minnesota clergy belonging to different generations and lay leaders who have worked on the front lines of the racial issue engaged in the region in spiritual and community care.
These are men, women, mothers, fathers, representatives of different religious experiences and spiritual expressions, both from the indigenous peoples of the United States and from immigrant communities, with a different ability to narrate and elaborate their own history. This diversity has allowed for a profound reflection and an experience of solidarity enriched by many different perspectives, in the hope that their personal experience of racism and denigration can serve as a testimony of the inhumanity that the children of God can show themselves capable of towards their neighbour. And with the deep inner desire that, as Christians who embody God’s gift of unity, we address and eradicate the divisions that prevent us from understanding and experiencing the truth of the common belonging to Christ.
This material was offered with the understanding that, whenever possible, it could be adapted for use in local situations. I was also suggested, in its use, that account should be taken of local liturgical and devotional practice, and of the whole social and cultural context and that such adaptation would ideally take place ecumenically. In some places ecumenical structures are already set up for adapting such material, while in other places, it was hoped that the need to adapt it would be a stimulus to creating such structures.
Ecumenical Prayer Vigil (Rome) – 30 September 2023
After the Angelus on Sunday 15 January 2023, Pope Francis, recalling this ecumenical time, announced a new event:
“We thank the Lord who faithfully and patiently guides His people towards full communion, and we ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten and sustain us with His gifts. The path for Christian unity and the path of synodal conversion of the Church are linked. I therefore take this opportunity to announce that an ecumenical prayer vigil will take place in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday 30 September, in which we will entrust to God the work of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. For the young people who will come to the Vigil there will be a special program throughout that weekend, organized by the Taizé Community. From now on, I invite brothers and sisters of all Christian denominations to participate in this gathering of the People of God.”
On 25 January 2023, at the close of the week of Christians, the Holy Father will celebrate Second Vespers in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. In addition, Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will carry out an ecumenical pilgrimage for peace in South Sudan, from 3 to 5 February 2023.
See https://presentationsistersne.ie/praying-for-unity-amidst-injustice/ containing links to all of the resources shared over the eight days prepared by the Churches Together in Britain & Ireland (CTBI) website https://ctbi.org.uk/resources-for-week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity-2023/
An International version
The versions above for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2023 have been adapted by the Britain and Ireland writers group. An international version is also available from the World Council of Churches (WCC) website: Week of Prayer 2023 International Version