VATICAN CITY, JAN. 17, 2001 (Zenit.org).-
Church Unity Octave, the Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians, which begins Thursday, may be the most important ecumenical event of the year.
During the coming week, thousands of meetings are planned around the world. Christian churches and communities will reflect together on Jesus’ words: "I am the way, the truth, and the life."
There are about 1.9 billion Christians in the world; just over half are Catholics. Christian communities resulting from the Reformation, as well as Anglicans, number 360.9 million followers. The Orthodox total 223.2 million, and the remaining number belong to other Christian communities.
Each year, a booklet is printed for guidance during the meetings. This year the booklet was written by a Romanian ecumenical group. This group of theologians was entrusted with the task of writing the booklet by the "Faith and Constitution" Commission of the Ecumenical Council of Churches and the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
In the introduction to the prayer they wrote for the ecumenical week, the Christian theologians state: "During the 20th century, called the ’century of ecumenism,’ great progress was made on the way toward unity. These are the first fruits of unity, a gift of the Spirit. If the last millennium was marked by divisions among the Churches, over the last years, especially, work has been carried out so that the new millennium will be one of unity."
Significantly, Romania was charged with writing the text. In recent years this country has made significant strides in the dialogue between Christians, which made possible John Paul II’s first visit to an Orthodox country, in May 1999.
"It is important to place signs on this way, in which we go forward together, and the year 2001 offers us multiple occasions to do so," the theologians recommend. "Of central importance is the fact that the Easter date is the same for all churches in the year 2001. Thus, all the world’s Christians will celebrate the common feast of the resurrection of Our Lord on the same day."
"Another important event," they noted, "will be the celebration by the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church of the foundation of the first Christian state, 1,700 years ago."
Lastly, the theologians expect the publication this year of an Ecumenical Letter, a text resulting from the work of the second European Assembly, held in Graz, Austria, in 1997, which reflects the development of common initiatives among the churches of Europe.
The theologians propose two specific gestures by way of common commitment to the construction of society: "The churches may continue to work together on the remission of the debt, included in the program of the Jubilee 2000." At the same time, the theologians invite Christians to support the "Decade Against Violence," proposed by the Ecumenical Council of Churches.
The culminating moment of the coming ecumenical week in Rome will be presided over by John Paul II, with a solemn celebration Jan. 25 in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Representatives of all Christian churches and communities will participate.
Last year, by John Paul II’s express wish, the Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians coincided with the opening of the holy door of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, to emphasize the Jubilee’s ecumenical dimension.
During this morning’s general audience at the Vatican, John Paul II appealed to all Christians worldwide to join in the ecumenical effort, "this common invocation to the Lord."
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