17 January 2019
In this image from 2018, Pope Francis, surrounded by clergy of different Christian traditions, holds an icon as he exchanges gifts with students of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute at Bossey near Geneva. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
In all of the countries where CNEWA works, from India to the Horn of Africa, Christians will be observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Catholics of the Latin and Eastern rites, as well as Orthodox Christians, will pray for the unity of the followers of Christ. This week is especially important for CNEWA because it was initiated 101 years ago by the Rev. Paul Wattson, S.A., who happens also to be one of the co-founders of CNEWA.
The theme for 2019 was chosen by Christians in Indonesia and is taken from Deuteronomy 16:20: “Justice, only justice, you shall pursue.” By choosing the theme of justice, Indonesian Christians wanted to make an important point. Living as they do in the most populous Muslim country in the world, they are acutely aware of two things. First, they realize that they are not only a minority but a divided minority. Many different churches with their believers can be found on the Indonesia archipelago. They realize that their divisions weaken the power of their witness in an overwhelmingly non-Christian environment. And secondly, they are aware of the importance of justice both for themselves and others.
The whole notion of Christian Unity can understandably come across as a rather “churchy” thing that deals with ancient doctrines, rituals, and controversies which many modern people no longer understand and hostilities which many Christians find scandalous. The struggle for Christian Unity can appear to be a rather inward- looking affair, disconnected from the world at large.
The theme of justice, however, adds an important element to the quest for Christian Unity. Unity does not merely look inward; it is profoundly related to the world. All Christians see the Gospel of Jesus as transforming the world. Christians have never and can never be indifferent to the problems we all face: war, oppression, violence, racism, hatred, poverty, etc. The biblical call to justice is a call to Christians to work together to overcome these problems and to transform the world into the Kingdom of God.
The regions in which CNEWA works experience all these challenges. In dealing with the problems mentioned above, we work closely with the different local churches—both Catholic and Orthodox—in service to people who are vulnerable and suffering.
When our efforts are scattered and divided, when there is even competition between churches, the task of seeking justice in our world is significantly weakened. By stressing justice this year, the ideal of Christian Unity is put into a very important context. Christian Unity is not seen primarily in the context of overcoming ancient controversies. Rather Christian Unity is seen in the context of service to the world.
The pursuit of justice to which all Christians are called is weakened and even compromised by our divisions. If Christians see their God-given calling as serving the world and transforming it into the Kingdom of God, we must work to remove any obstacles that make that calling harder to fulfill.
The Christians of Indonesia have given us all a challenge in the theme for the 2019 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity—a challenge both ancient and new: ”Justice, only justice shall you pursue.”
Tags: Ecumenism Christian Unity Orthodox