Christians Worldwide Mark 100 Years of Prayer for Unity

Christians across denominational lines celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Friday.

The week, Jan. 18-25, brings Christians worldwide together in prayer so that "we might become one," as in Jesus' prayer at his Ascension. This year, the theme is "Pray Without Ceasing," taken from I Thessalonians 5:17.

The annual observance for Christian unity began in January 1908, when the "Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity" was celebrated in a remote chapel some 50 miles from New York City.

In 1907, the Rev. Spencer Jones, Anglican vicar of a parish in Moreton-on-Marsh, England, had wrote to the Rev. Paul Wattson an Episcopal priest in the United States, suggesting that a day should be established for all Christians to pray for unity among them. Wattson proposed an eight-day observance of prayers, sermons and conferences.

Wattson then took his idea to the Society of the Atonement which he co-founded with Mother Lurana White in Garrison, New York. They established the Church Unity Octave in January 1908. In 1909, the Roman Catholic Pope at the time, Pius X, gave his official blessing, and in 1916 Pope Benedict XV encouraged its observance throughout the Roman Catholic Church.

Then in 1967, representatives from the Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches agreed to jointly observe a time of prayer called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Since 1968, the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has worked together annually to select scriptural themes and helpful materials to promote prayer for the unity of Christian churches.

This year, in observance of the week, a number of Christian organizations will hold ecumenical prayer services, social action activities (such as an environmental cleanup), Bibles studies or seminars together.

Meanwhile, the American Bible Society is hosting its second annual Day of Prayer for Christian Unity on Jan. 24 when Padre Alberto Cutie, priest of the Archdiocese of Miami, and other speakers will help ABS reach the Hispanic and Latino communities in the New York City area with the Word of God.

The eight-day observance is set between the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, on Jan. 18, and the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, on Jan. 25.