Tuesday, January 18, 2022, begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an observance with Franciscan roots. The 2022 theme for the Week is inspired by Matthew 2:2—“We saw the star in the east, and we came to worship him.”
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was the initiative of Fr. Paul Wattson (1863–1940) and Mother Lurana White (1870–1935), founders of the Society of the Atonement. In 1895, Lurana, then a young religious in the Episcopal Church, was looking for an Anglican congregation that lived St. Francis's vision of corporate poverty, and she turned to Fr. Paul for assistance. Finding none, the duo founded the Society of the Atonement in 1898 at Graymoor, in Garrison, NY.
For the name of the new congregation, Fr. Paul was inspired by a passage in Paul’s Letter to the Romans (in the King James version): “We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (5:11). He interpreted this passage literally to mean “at-one-ment.” The new society would particularly work and pray to gather into one those who were previously dispersed. Fr. Paul initiated the Church Unity Octave in 1908, beginning on the former Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (January 18) and ending on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25).
The following year the Society, in an unprecedented move, was received corporately into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. This reunion was facilitated by another Franciscan, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States, Archbishop Diomede Falconio, OFM, who had spent his early years as a friar as a professor at St. Bonaventure University in upstate New York. The Society of the Atonement, in its men’s and women’s branches, follows the Third Order Regular Franciscan Rule.
The theme for this year 2022, developed by the Middle East Council of Churches based in Beirut, Lebanon, was chosen because today, more than ever, the Middle East especially needs a heavenly light to accompany its people. The star of Bethlehem is also a sign that God walks with all people, feels our pain, hears our cries, and shows us compassion.
As this week begins, Pope Francis invited all to make this journey to fuller unity together.
The Vatican website offers a wealth of resources for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
You are invited to join a live-streamed ecumenical prayer service sponsored by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement and several other organizations on Wednesday, January 19, 2022 at 12:00 Eastern (GMT-5) via Facebook.
Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor.