The material designed for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is to denounce the “cold forces of indifference” towards migrants and refugees.
Driving the news
Every year since 1968, millions of Christians from all denominations have come together in an annual observance to remember Jesus’ prayer for his disciples “that they may be one… so that the world may believe”.
In the northern hemisphere, the ecumenical celebration is held in the week between the 18th and the 25th of January, between the feasts of St. Peter and St. Paul.
For this 2020, the materials for the octave convened by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in the Vatican and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches have been prepared by Christians from Churches in Malta and Gozo.
The theme those Maltese Christians have chosen for the 2020 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “They showed us unusual kindness”, in reference to the story in the book of Acts of St. Paul’s arrival on Malta (Acts 27:18–28:10), which feast is celebrated in Malta on February 10.
A major theme in the biblical story of Paul’s arrival in Malta is divine providence, the Maltese Christians write in their introduction to the theme of this year’s ecumenical celebration.
“In our search for Christian unity, surrendering ourselves to divine providence will demand letting go of many things to which we are deeply attached. What matters to God is the salvation of all people”, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity organisers recall.
But the ecumenical material acquires an even sharper contemporary edge when its authors remember that “today many people are facing the same terrors on the same seas” of the Mediterranean that St. Paul and the early Christians faced.
Why it matters
Italy, Malta… “the very same places named in the [biblical] reading also feature in the stories of modern-day migrants”, the authors recall, also bringing to mind the fact that “in other parts of the world many others are making equally dangerous journeys by land and sea to escape natural disasters, warfare and poverty”.
“Their lives, too, are at the mercy of immense and coldly indifferent forces – not only natural, but political, economic and human”, the Maltese Christians write of these modern-day refugees.
“This human indifference takes various forms: the indifference of those who sell places on unseaworthy vessels to desperate people; the indifference of the decision not to send out rescue boats; and the indifference of turning migrant ships away”, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity material authors denounce.
The writers pin down the central question for prayer and reflection in the octave:
“As Christians together facing these crises of migration this story challenges us: do we collude with the cold forces of indifference, or do we show ‘unusual kindness’ [Acts 28:2] and become witnesses of God’s loving providence to all people?”
It’s a question that took on an even greater urgency January 3, when the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported that 110,669 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2019, marking the sixth straight year that at least 100,000 arrivals were recorded on the Mediterranean Sea Routes.
“The Mediterranean has claimed the lives of at least 19,164 migrants since 2014”, the IOM further denounced.
For the record
“Hospitality is a much needed virtue in our search for Christian unity. It is a practice that calls us to a greater generosity to those in need”, the Maltese Christians continue in their introduction to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity materials.
“The people who showed unusual kindness to Paul and his companions did not yet know Christ, and yet it is through their unusual kindness that a divided people were drawn closer together.
“Our own Christian unity will be discovered not only through showing hospitality to one another, important though this is, but also through loving encounters with those who do not share our language, culture or faith”, the Maltese Week of Prayer organisers conclude.