January 2023 Allocutio

A passion for the unity of Christians

Fr. Liam O Cuiv

We are about to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This will see Catholics and other Christians across the whole world united in prayer. This week of prayer was begun as the Octave of Christian Unity in 1908 by Fr. Paul Wattson and the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, which he had founded, and which a year later made their corporate submission to Rome.

Just this past week Pope Francis has begun a new cycle of catechesis at his General Audiences on Wednesdays dedicated to the passion for evangelisation or apostolic zeal, which, as the Holy Father says, is a vital dimension for the Church, for he states, “without apostolic zeal, faith withers”.

After the Second Vatican Council, certain misinterpretations of its declarations seemed to lead many to question the Missionary nature of the Church, and the very need to evangelise. It may be the case that not enough emphasis was given to the activity of the Church as a necessary response to the call of Jesus to teach all nations and to baptise.

Those who initiated the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity sought to respond to the prayer of the Lord Jesus to his Heavenly Father, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17,21).

So, it is not a question of believing anything – it is about believing that Jesus has come from God, is the very revelation of God, that Jesus and the Father are one.

This helps us understand the words of Jesus, “it is by your love for one another that everyone will know that you are my disciples”(John 13,35). If we do not have love for one another what right have we to speak in his name?

As legionaries we can take pride in the great witness of love for our Christian brothers and sisters shown by our holy founder, Frank Duff: his founding of the prayer movement, the League for the Reunion of Christendom in 1939, and his founding of a retreat movement for non-Catholics shortly after. Throughout his life he sought personal contact with other Christians, not in a patronising way but in an understanding that true apostleship must always be based on friendship, which is so powerful a means of evangelisation.

With this basis of prayer, Frank Duff was to found the Mercier Society in 1941 as a forum for dialogue with other Christians, an initiative that proved ahead of its time. Later, with the vindication of Vatican II, he initiated the Pauline Circle, which like the Mercier Society followed the same aims to build up mutual understanding and goodwill.

At this time in history with the mass-movement of peoples in our world, there is an even greater need to build up ties of friendship and mutual respect with newly arrived Christians in our countries, new sisters and brothers in the faith among us. Many migrants face discrimination and exploitation. Let us love them as Christ loves us. Let us, as brothers and sisters, offer them welcome, and prayerful support in our communities of faith.

Mass migration challenges us all, and may put people under great pressure. However, this is where we must put prayer at the basis of all our undertakings, that God may give us the gift of unity where the Enemy would sow division.

Disunity among Christians has always been a block to evangelisation in our world. This is something that those involved in mission have keenly felt, and as legionaries we know that disunity in our midst holds back our mission also. We must continually work and pray for unity.

Mary, Mother of the Church, desires that all members of the Body of Christ, her Son, be one as he earnestly prayed for. Surely nothing must pain her more than divisions among her children. May our devotion to Mary move us to do all we can to promote Christian unity.