This Sunday concluded the annual International Week of prayer for Christian Unity. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, formerly known as the Octave of Christian Unity, is traditionally celebrated over eight days, from Jan 18th to 25th, around a common theme, and involves Christian communities and Churches across the world, including the Catholic Church.
When I started thinking about what topics to write about, I came across this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and I thought to myself: the concept of unity among believers of Jesus Christ must be very important since churches around the world dedicate a whole week out of the year to come together and pray.
Most of us have probably experienced the wave of religious organizations in campus trying to get us to come to their events (including our awesome Newman Center). Living in a country as Catholic as Colombia (80-90% of the population identifies as being Catholic), seeing so many different Christian denominations was kind of a culture shock. But, it has also been very encouraging as someone who values her faith a lot. The amount of people that are involved in these organizations is incredible. But the amount of tension and division among all these groups is also very overwhelming. As a freshman last year, I received emails, calls, and text messages from different Christian groups asking me to come to their events. I went to a couple of events, but instead of looking at the other group with humility and openness, I saw them as competition, as people who were drawing students away from our Newman Center and from the Catholic Church. As time passed and as Pope Francis started to display this unity, I realized how unchristian my way of thinking was. I mean, Jesus did not come to divide us, but instead to unite us in His love and mercy. And that is why I like this year’s week of prayer for Christian unity’s theme:
“Give me to drink” (John 4:7)
Instead of condemning a specific community, this biblical encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman invites us to see the richness and value that are present in the other person. The Franciscan missionaries to the Holy Land beautifully explain this concept: “To drink water from someone else’s well is the first step towards experiencing another’s way of being. This leads to an exchange of gifts that enriches.” When we distance ourselves from those who are different to us, we do not allow ourselves to be “enriched” by the values and experiences that the other person has. God calls us to be humble, to kneel down before Him and to cry to Him with an open heart and say: “Teach me your ways, Oh Lord”, because God’s ways are much better than our ways, and His understanding much greater than ours (Isaiah 55:8).
Humility helps us understand, according to Paulo Freire’s Educational Theory, that “No one knows it all; no one is ignorant of everything. We all know something; we are all ignorant of something.” Humility is realizing that we need one another to live out Christ’s mission. Humility is changing our attitude and committing ourselves to see the things that unite us, as opposed to picking out the things that divide us. And what a perfect way of going about that than looking at the cross and seeing how Jesus’ died for us, how Jesus loved us to the point of giving up His life for us.
In the great words of Pope Francis when referencing Phil 2:5, “Perfect union among brothers and sisters can only come from looking to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ” Unity is not just acknowledging that there are other churches and communities out there. Unity can only come through the alignment of our hearts and minds to that of Jesus Christ and “to his radical self-emptying for love of humanity” (Pope Francis, 2014). Once we are in His presence, then we will have a better understanding of how unhealthy divisions are to the Church and how we can deal with situations of that sort.
So, I guess what I am trying to say is that there is no wikiHow to undo the divisions of the different Churches that believe in Christ as their Savior. But what we can do is lessen the tensions and allow ourselves to be enriched by the interaction with other people whose beliefs are different, to be humble and recognize the need for others in our walk of life, and to bring the joy of the Gospel to anyone we meet.
I would like to conclude with Pope Francis’ words during last year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Community:
“In the face of those who no longer see the full, visible unity of the Church as an achievable goal, we are invited not to give up our ecumenical efforts, faithful to that which the Lord Jesus asked of the Father, ‘that they may be one,’ … At the current time, even our ecumenical journey and the relations between Christians are going through significant changes, due to the fact that we find (ourselves) professing our faith in the context of a society and culture where the reference to God and to all that recalls the transcendent dimension of life is ever less present. [In the face of these challenges,] it is necessary that our testimony focuses on the center of our faith, on the announcement of the love of God that is manifested in Christ his Son.”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,