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Churches worldwide observe week of prayer for unity

CHURCHES around the world observed a week of prayer from 18 to 25 January, holding special worship services and gatherings that emphasized what Christians hold in common.

This year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity centered on the scriptural theme, "We will all be changed by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ," from the book of Corinthians (15:51-58).

Celebrated in some areas at Pentecost, the week is sponsored by the Catholic church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC).

Materials for celebration and reflection this year were prepared by churches in Poland, sharing their history of partition and victory over oppression, the WCC said in a news release.

In the Philippines, where people have been faced with governance crisis, churches took the lead towards national unity in setting aside their doctrinal differences.

Together they marked the week by praying for change and peace.

Churches Together in Britain and Ireland stressed the significance of change as an integral part of theology and unity among the churches.

"Change is also at the heart of the ecumenical movement. When we pray for the unity of the church we are praying that the churches that we know, and which are so familiar to us, will change as they conform more closely to Christ," they said.

Celebrations also took place in France and Switzerland, and throughout Europe, where various churches including Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants reflected together on the theme of Christian unity in prayer and meditations, the WCC said.

Across the U.S. and Canada, local Christian communities marked the week with special worship services and community gatherings.

According to Rev. Victor Kim from Grace Presbyterian Church in Calgary, Alberta, "it’s a week that is ecumenical in nature. So it’s not about one particular denomination, one particular strand."

However, in Lahore, Pakistan, a gathering on 23 January of Catholic and Protestant leaders that marked the week of prayer said that unity is being threatened by unconsecrated, "unofficial" churches, according to CathNews India, a Catholic news service.

"Self-made pastors and bishops are a serious concern," said Father James Channan, regional coordinator for the United Religious Initiative.

"Without a parish or even church buildings [in some cases], such people attract the poor.

This unconsecrated form of preaching usually results in confusion, scandal and controversy," Channan said, according to CathNews India.

Both Catholic and Protestant speakers pressed for joint meetings between the recognized churches to deal with problems arising from the threats posed by terrorism, violence and depression.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, Tamara Grdzelidze, program executive of the WCC Commission on Faith and Order, offered various perspectives showing the strength of faith as one uniting factor.

In a special service for the week on 23 January at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Grdzelidze said that in Christianity, "defeat changes into victory, the Crucifixion changes into the Resurrection, death … changes into life."

Grdzelidze said that "to follow the Lord, to serve Him and attain the honor of victory over death, we are called to unity in our faith in its manifold expressions whether charitable, prayerful, meditative, active or pro-active.

Unity in faith is indeed victory over hatred, wickedness, idle talk, sloth."