Christian Unity Week service to stress reconciliation

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Reconciliation, especially focusing on the 500th anniversary of the beginnings of the Reformation, will be stressed during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebrated this year from Jan. 18-25.

The week will be highlighted on Sunday, Jan. 22, with an ecumenical prayer service and reception at 7 p.m. at St. Justin Martyr Church, 11910 Eddie and Park Road in Sunset Hills. Rev. Michael Malone, Lutheran ecumenical officer, will preach. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson will preside.

The theme, "Reconciliation — The Love of Christ Compels Us" (2 Corinthians 5:14-20) reflects on the main concerns of the churches marked by Martin Luther's Reformation and recognizes the pain of the subsequent deep divisions which afflicted the unity of the Church. The theme was selected as an opportunity to take steps toward reconciliation.

James Comninellis, outreach and resources coordinator with the archdiocese's Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Office, said the theme involves seeing "the bricks in the wall we've built between one another."

The event at St. Justin Church is "an invitation to get to know Christians of other denominations," Comninellis said. Attendees will be from the Armenian Church, Baptist Church, Romanian Church and many mainline Protestant churches as well as Lutherans.

The Church Unity Octave, a forerunner of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, was developed by Father Paul Wattson, SA, at Graymoor in Garrison, N.Y., and was first observed at Graymoor from Jan. 18-25, 1908. Today, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity invites the Christian community throughout the world to pray in communion with the prayer of Jesus "that they all may be one" (John 17:21).

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity recognizes the richness and value in others and asks God for the gift of unity, according to material from the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute. The theme and text for each year's observance are chosen and prepared by representatives of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches.

Speaking about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity last year, Pope Francis said that although divisions are often caused by selfishness, the common baptism shared by Christians is an experience of being "called from the merciless and alienating darkness" to an encounter with God who is "full of mercy."

The grace of God's mercy, he added, is stronger than what divides Christians. Pope Francis emphasized that the week of prayer serves as a reminder that Christians share a common mission in passing on to others the mercy they have received, especially with "the poor and the abandoned."

The prayer service at St. Justin Martyr is the first one locally marking the Reformation anniversary. On the last Sunday in October, the Archdiocese of St. Louis will join with partners from the Lutheran community in marking the anniversary with an ecumenical service. The partnership recognizes strides in Catholic-Lutheran dialogue and ecumenical unity by the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

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