Do good; seek justice (Isaiah 1:17). Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 18-25, 2023
Some years ago when I was serving in Kenya as a missionary, I had a very interesting conversation with a Kenyan priest of the Anglican Church of Kenya. Even though we represented two quite different theological, ecclesial, and liturgical traditions, the conversation was positive and encouraging. At its core was our common experience of knowing, at a deep and personal level, Jesus Christ as God’s Son and Saviour.
What struck me most was his comment that ran something like this: ‘Your missionaries came from England many years ago and brought us knowledge of Jesus, his life and teaching. Thank you for that great gift, but I wish you had left your divisions at home. Instead, you have infected us with those same divisions.’
The history of Christian division has plagued this country from the 16th Century. The Catholic Church first suffered persecution and suppression, and in later times, social and political exclusion. It was only in 1850 that the Catholic Church hierarchy was restored, and even then with no small measure of resistance from the status quo.
This historical background and the fact that only half the population claims to have some kind of religious affiliation makes unity among Christians more urgent than ever. It will always be unity with diversity, a unity of witness and mission centred on Christ. As much as I might dream of a single Catholic Church embracing all Christians, I cannot see this happening! But what can be, is for all Christians to work together through prayer and action to live out the mission of introducing Christ to those who do not yet know him, at present the majority.
The healing of divisions has been a project of most Churches in this country for many decades. We have prayed together in each other’s churches, shared our different theological perspectives, entered into meaningful dialogue about ministry and communion, and collaborated on joint projects serving those in need in the various communities.
We have largely shed our daily prejudices and have begun the long and difficult process of reconciliation, modelling forgiveness as a foundation of Christian witness.
Pope Francis reminds us that ‘the root of communion and love is Christ who makes us overcome our prejudices to see in others a brother or sister to be loved always’. We will only bear the fruit of mission if we all choose to abide in the love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ. If we do not love and respect each other as disciples of Christ, how can we speak of Good News of God wanting to gather all people to himself?
Father Anthony Chantry, National Director of PMS England and Wales