Today begins the annual week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The week of prayer involves the whole church. The desire for unity is traced to Jesus' prayer at the Last Supper, "that all may be one." In the modern era, Pope John XXIII responded to Jesus' desire by creating a council to promote christian unity. The year was 1960--before the Second Vatican Council.
The council's initial work invited other non-catholics to attend the Second Vatican Council. Pope John decided invitations were not enough. In 1962 during the first session of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John made the status of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity equal to that of all the councils of the Second Vatican Council! Jesus' desire for unity took on new life because of Pope John.
In November 2006 Pope Benedict XVI visited Patriarch Bartholomew I in Istanbul at his see of the Greek Orthodox Church. Pope Benedict has said his visit was "moving" and "opened my heart to hope." The pope described this octave of prayer:
The days from Jan. 18 to 25, and in other parts of the world, the week of Pentecost, are an intense time of commitment and prayer on the part of all Christians, who can make use of the supports elaborated jointly by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and by the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches. (Wednesday's Audience, "We Must Not Be Discouraged" Vatican City).The Vatican website for its Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity bears an icon of Ss. Peter and Paul embracing each other. Our prayers are not for a merger, but as the icon invites to a deeper love, respect and union. While some may scoff that for almost 50 years we are still "separated brothers and sisters," we are closer than before. To overcome centuries of distrust and dislike in 50 years is no laughing matter. Our prayers for one another are necessary each week of the year.