January 16, 2015

Ecumenical prayer service will close Church Unity Octave on Jan. 25

By Natalie Hoefer

For the second year in a row, an ecumenical prayer service at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis will close the Church Unity Octave, the time from Jan. 18-25 when Christian communities focus on moving toward unification.

The service will take place at 4 p.m. on Jan. 25 at the cathedral, located at 1347 N. Meridian St.

Ecumenism—the promotion of unity among Christians—is “an essential part of our role in the Christian community,” said Father Rick Ginther, director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism, and pastor of St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary parishes, both in Terre Haute.

“It flows out of the Second Vatican Council document ‘Unitatis Redintegratio,’ a shorter document that lays out very clearly that part of the mission of the Church is to seek unity among Christians.”

Through the inspiration of this document, said Father Ginther, much dialogue has taken place in the last 50 years “to realize what we have in common as Christians, where our differences are, and how we can bridge those differences.

“That’s a very long process,” he admitted. “But there have been some very wonderful things happen in the last 50 years.”

The Church Unity Octave, which begins with the feast of the Chair of St. Peter on Jan. 18 and concludes on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on Jan. 25, predates the Second Vatican Council.

It started in January of 1908 as a gathering of Episcopalians and Catholics, not far from New York City. St. Pius X gave his blessing to the Church Unity Octave, then Pope Benedict XV extended its observance to the universal Church in 1916.

“In part, this prayer service to conclude the week of Christian Unity is a way for us to rejoice as followers of Christ, to be thankful for that together, and in a sense to recommit ourselves to the ongoing work of ecumenism,” said Father Ginther.

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin feels strongly about the importance of the ecumenical prayer service and efforts to promote Christian unity.

“The greatest wound on the Body of Christ is the division among those who claim to be his disciples,” he said. “The continuing rift among Christians indicates a resistance to the prayer of Jesus the night before He died: ‘I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us … . (Jn 17:20-21).’

“In working for the unity of Christians, we carry out the deepest desire of Jesus Christ for his Church.”

In participating in such prayer services in the past, Archbishop Tobin has found both suffering and reason for thanksgiving.

“Praying together with fellow Catholics and other Christians has been a source of suffering, since we cannot yet celebrate the Eucharist,” he said. “But it is also a source of motivation to continue working for the day when we can share the one Bread and the one Cup.”

When the archbishop addresses those attending the prayer service, including leaders and heads of various Christian communities, he will speak words of welcome and of honesty about Christian unity.

“I will offer a fraternal welcome to all who will participate, thanking God for the progress that has been made through the dialogue of Christians,” he said.

“At the same time, I will not minimize the difficulties we face in carrying out Christ’s wish for unity among his disciples. I will pray for healing, humility and hope. Christian unity is fundamentally a work of the Holy Spirit, who destroys the barriers that divide us.”

The service, which Father Ginther said will last about 45 minutes to an hour, will be followed by a reception across the street at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center, 1400 N. Meridian St.

Prayer, music and a reflection at the service will revolve around chapter four of the Gospel of John—the story of the woman at the well. Archbishop Tobin will preside, and Bishop Catherine Waynick of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis will offer a reflection on the Scripture.

Father Ginther said as the faith leaders process in, each will carry a pitcher of water and pour the contents into a common receptacle to represent Christian unity.

“All the while, we know that ours is an imperfect oneness,” he said. “But at least in terms of baptism, the trinity and the fact that we all believe in Christ, we are one.” †

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