Christian-Unity Week Focuses on Suffering

Organizers Cite Need to Confront AIDS and Poverty

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ROME, JAN. 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- This year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity includes a call for the faithful to join forces in responding to human suffering, particularly that caused by poverty and AIDS.



The theme is inspired by a proposal from the Christian communities of Umlazi, South Africa, a region affected by poverty, and where an estimated 50% of residents are infected with HIV.

"He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak," from Mark 7:31-37, is this year's slogan.

Jointly prepared since 1968 by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the week of prayer is traditionally observed Jan. 18-25.

Those two entities prepared the text that will serve as guidelines this year for the world's 2 billion Christians. The text is based on a proposal presented by the Christian communities of Umlazi.

The guidelines propose "two invitations addressed to Churches and Christians: on one hand, to pray for Christian unity and to seek it together; and on the other hand, to join forces to respond to human sufferings."

More than a concept

For the communities of Umlazi, the "visible unity of all Christians" is more than a theological concept. The communities and churches can be and do become agents of healing only when they themselves are healed, when they are truly the one body of Christ, the week-of-prayer text explains.

"The human suffering caused by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other dehumanizing forces threatens to overwhelm the divided churches," states the World Council of Churches. "Christians and Churches can, however, break the silence, speaking out with a single voice and reaching out as a single body, acting with compassion and in unity."

The materials for the week of prayer include an introduction to its theme, a suggested ecumenical worship service, biblical reflections and prayers, and an overview of the ecumenical situation in the particular country which has prepared the material, in this case, South Africa.

This year's week of prayer will culminate in Rome on the eve of the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Benedict XVI will preside at the celebration in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.