Catholics, Protestants Set to Begin Unity Week
Annual Initiative Will Provide Reflection on What It Means to Win
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 17, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins Wednesday and will conclude on Jan. 25, the feast of the conversion of St. Paul. The texts for this year's celebration were prepared by groups in Poland.
This year's theme is "We will all be changed by the victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ."
A statement from the Vatican Information Service noted that the week is promoted by the World Council of Churches (WCC), a worldwide fellowship of 349 churches seeking unity, common witness and Christian service. The Catholic Church participates in this ecumenical initiative, despite not being a member of the WCC.
This year's theme comes from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, which promises the transformation of human life -- with all its apparent dimensions of "triumph" and "defeat" -- through the victory of Christ's resurrection.
After leading the Angelus on Sunday, Benedict XVI invited the faithful, "as individuals and in communities, to participate spiritually, and where possible practically, in the Week of Prayer, to ask God for the gift of full unity among the disciples of Christ."
A working group composed of representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and Old Catholic and Protestant Churches active in Poland prepared the texts this year.
The materials for the Week of Prayer explain the choice of the theme: "The history of Poland has been marked by a series of defeats and victories. We can mention the many times that Poland was invaded, the partitions, oppression by foreign powers and hostile systems. (...) And yet where there is victory there are also losers who do not share the joy and triumph of the winners. This particular history of the Polish nation has led the ecumenical group who have written this year's material to reflect more deeply on what it means to 'win' and to 'lose,' especially given the way in which the language of 'victory' is so often understood in triumphalist terms. Yet Christ shows us a very different way!"
The text goes on to note that the 2012 European Football Championship will be held in Poland and Ukraine. "Thinking of this example might lead us to consider the plight of those who do not win -- not only in sport but in their lives and communities: who will spare a thought for the losers, those who constantly suffer defeats because they are denied victory due to various conditions and circumstances? Rivalry is a permanent feature not only in sport but also in political, business, cultural and, even, church life."
But Jesus' teaching on victory is simple, the text continues: "'Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all' (Mark 9:35). These words speak of victory through mutual service, helping, boosting the self-esteem of those who are 'last,' forgotten, excluded. For all Christians, the best expression of such humble service is Jesus Christ, his victory through death and his resurrection. (...)
"The point is to achieve a victory which integrates all Christians around the service of God and one's neighbor. (...) The unity for which we pray is not merely a 'comfortable' notion of friendliness and co-operation. It requires a willingness to dispense with competition between us. We need to open ourselves to each other, to offer gifts to and receive gifts from one another, so that we might truly enter into the new life in Christ, which is the only true victory."