Dear People of the Diocese of New Jersey,
That they may all be one—John 17:21
For many years, the period between January 18 and January 25 has been designated by the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church (through the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) as “A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.” This “octave” (period of eight days), is bookmarked by two major feasts of the Western Church the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter on January 18, and the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25. (Recognizing that January is vacation time in the world’s Southern Hemisphere, the World Council of Churches suggests that the observance may be observed on other occasions during the year where there is a focus on Christian Unity, such as the Feast of Pentecost.)
The observance of a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and the framework of the two January feasts days was first suggested by an Episcopal priest Fr. Paul Wattson, in 1908. Wattson was co-founder along with Luranna White, of the Society of the Atonement, a body of men and women committed to the religious life and vows. According to Wikipedia, “The Society preached the primacy of the Roman pontiff, while keeping its Episcopal allegiance, as they worked to realize a corporate reunion between thep two bodies.” Wikipedia notes, “Due to this, the founders and their small number of disciples came to find themselves not only criticized but ostracized by their co-religionists, who saw them as walking an impossible tightrope between the two bodies.” In 1909, the society petitioned the Holy See to be received. As Wikipedia reports, “In October 1909, the Vatican took the unprecedented step of accepting the members of the Society as a corporate body, allowing the Friars and Sisters to remain in their established way of life.”
Despite this, Wattson, White, and their fellow religious remained committed to the work of Christian Unity, continuing to emphasize the Week of Prayer between the Feasts of the Confession of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul, promoting it as a unique time for Christian bodies around the world to work and pray toward this end. The cause was taken up by both the Vatican and eventually by the World Council of Churches, which was founded in 1943.
The theme for this years Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him.” This theme was chosen by the Middle East Council of Churches, a subgroup of the W.C.C., and particularly from the churches in Lebanon. As a website of the Friars of the Atonement observes, “Present times in Lebanon are extremely difficult and economically disastrous. All this combined with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have made the situation quite stressful. The power of prayer in solidarity with those who suffer is a demonstration of Christian unity and a sign of communion.”
A brief excerpt from the Resource materials for the observance of the Week of Christian Unity provided by the World Council of Churches includes a reflection on this year’s theme. One paragraph captures its essence:
The Magi reveal to us the unity of all nations desired by God. They travel from far-off countries, and represent diverse cultures, yet they are driven by the same hunger to see and know the new-born king and are gathered into the little house in Bethlehem in the simple act of giving homage and offering gifts. Christians are called to be a sign to the world of God bringing about this unity that he desires. Drawn from different cultures, races and languages, Christians share in a common search for Christ and a common desire to worship him. The mission of the Christian people, therefore, is to be a sign like the star, to guide humanity in its hunger for God, to lead all to Christ, and to be the means by which God is bringing about the unity of all peoples.
Pope Francis offered his own thought about this year’s theme in an address during his Sunday Angelus message, writing:
This year’s proposal mirrors the experience of the Magi who came from the East to Bethlehem to honour the Messianic King. We Christians, in the diversity of our confessions and traditions, are also pilgrims on the way toward full unity, and we will draw near our goal to the extent that we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, our only Lord. During the Week of Prayer, let us offer our difficulties and sufferings for the unity of Christians.
I find the Pope’s insight compelling: we will draw near our goal to the extent that we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. This, to me is the key to it all. Jesus, the very image of God (Col. 1:15); the one in whom the fullness of God is pleased to dwell (Col. 1:19); Jesus, love incarnate. We will draw near to our goal to the extent that we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
Having just undergone successful cataract surgery in both my eyes—I am deeply grateful to all of you who have been praying for me through this—I am ready to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. I hope you are too. Jesus and his love are indeed, the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14L6). Jesus and his love are the way to Christian to unity. Jesus and his love are the way to the healing of our nation and of our world.
On January 18, when the 2022 Observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby “tweeted out” an invitation for all to join in the following prayer written by the Chemin Neuf Community which is being said each morning during devotions at Lambeth Palace:
Lord Jesus, who prayed that we might all be one,
we pray to you for the unity of Christians,
according to your will,
according to your means.
May your Spirit enable us
to experience the suffering caused by division,
to see our sin
and to hope beyond all hope. Amen.
I commend this prayer to you, urging you to pray for Christian Unity as you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.
Blessings and peace,
The Right Rev. William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jersey
 See “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” on the website of the World Council of Churches found at https://www.oikoumene.org/events/week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity
 “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” – Wikipedia – found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Week_of_Prayer_for_Christian_Unity
 See “Society of the Atonement” on Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_the_Atonement
 “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” in Wikipedia – art.cit.
 “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – 2022” – World Council of Churches – https://www.oikoumene.org/events/week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity
 See “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – January 18, 2022 – January 26, 2022 on the website of the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute – A Ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement found at https://geii.org/week_of_prayer_for_christian_unity/theme_announcement_2022.html
 “Introduction to the Theme for the Year 2022” in the Resource Booklet Developed for the World Council of Churches, p. 5 – https://www.oikoumene.org/sites/default/files/2021-04/WPCU_2022_Booklet_EN.pdf
 Pope Francis, Angelus, Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, January 16, 2022 – found at https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2022/documents/20220116-angelus.html