United in prayer in Jerusalem: Week of prayer for Christian Unity and Extraordinary Prayer of all the Churches | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

United in prayer in Jerusalem: Week of prayer for Christian Unity and Extraordinary Prayer of all the Churches

Jerusalem, 21st - 29th January 2012

The ecumenical celebrations in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Jerusalem, are always moving and fascinating. This year again, as usual, they began a few days later than elsewhere, waiting for the end of the long Christmas period which in the Holy Land came to an end on 19th January with the feast of the Epiphany for the Orthodox and with Christmas and Epiphany, celebrated on the same day, for the Armenians.

The ecumenical encounters of prayer, which were held in various languages between 21st and 29th January, began on the Saturday afternoon, with the Greek Orthodox office of the Apodeipnon, or Complines, at the Calvary, in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, where the community of participants gathered. According to tradition, every day a different Christian community hosts the shared prayer meeting, which is generally followed by a simple convivial moment, offering the faithful of the different confessions a concrete opportunity to approach one another in a climate of fraternity and cordiality, to get to know one another and to discover they are neighbours on the path of faith. This first appointment was then followed by the celebration at the Anglican Cathedral of St. George, on the afternoon of Sunday 22nd January and then, on Monday, by the moving ceremony at the Armenian Church of St. James, intimately lit by the traditional and very old oil lamps, the ganteghes, which hang from the high vaulted ceiling of the Cathedral, and the wax candles that decorate the three altars. Here, in the semi-darkness with soft lights, accented by the candles held by the religious and the many people present at the meeting, the liturgy takes on a mystical flavour and re-evokes the traditions of ancient Christianity, with pre-Byzantine and pre-Gregorian prayers and chants. After the following meeting, on Tuesday 24th January, at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, not far from the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre and also packed with faithful of the difference Christian confessions, it was the turn of the Latin Church, at the Latin Patriarchate in the afternoon of Wednesday 25th January and at the Cenacle the following day, to organize and preside the ecumenical liturgy. The appointment of the Week of prayer for Christian Unity is one of the rare occasions in the year when the Cenacle is granted for Christian celebrations. The prayer meetings then concluded with the last three appointments, at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, based in West Jerusalem, at the Ethiopian Coptic Church of St. Anthony, next to the Holy Sepulchre, and lastly, at the Greek Catholic Church of the Annunciation, near the Latin Patriarchate at Jaffa Gate.

This year, as in January 2011, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was also enhanced by a further event, the Seventh extraordinary prayer of all the Churches for reconciliation, unity and peace, which coincided with the ecumenical celebration on 28th January at the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. Anthony, at the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Once again, for this very appointment which is very deeply felt, the leaders of the Christian Churches of the Holy Land and very many faithful of the different confessions gathered together, all guests of the Coptic community, a very ancient Christian group which came into being in Egypt and which has been present in the Holy Land since the beginnings of Christianity. This Church, which for many centuries, until the present day, has testified its deep faith in Jesus Christ, to the extent of martyrdom even in recent times, proposed a simple and very intense celebration for this special occasion, inspired by rich traditions, but also sensitive to the difficulties and dramas which the Coptic community is still experiencing. Welcomed and guided by H.E. Amba Abraham, Archbishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, the many participants were also to raise their voices and their prayers together in a moment of genuine unity of aspirations and feelings.
This is a particularly moving and engaging initiative, as underlined by Veronique Nebel, who for some time has been close to the Holy Land as coordinator of the Swiss Association of Friends of the Magnificat and promoter of the appointments of extraordinary prayer of all the Churches, which started in 2005, shortly after the death of Pope John Paul II and which aims to be inspired by the special charisma of Jerusalem, Mother of all the Churches, to make the unanimous voice of Christianity rise and include Christians of the whole world in a single embrace. The prayer meeting was broadcast live on four continents, thanks to several Christian television stations and an efficient team of translators and commentators in different languages.

These are precious moments, which invigorate the spirituality of Jerusalem and its Christian heart, allowing all the faithful, at times oppressed by the urgent problems of difficult daily life, to relish the beauty and joy of being Christians in the land inhabited by the sense of this extraordinary story.

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti