This coming Monday begins the annual Octave of prayer for Christian Unity, 18th January to 25th January. Because of this, I did my own examination of conscience. Saint Pope John II wrote in his encyclical Ut unum sint, “the quest for Christian unity is not a matter of choice or expediency, but a duty which springs from the very nature of the Christian community”.
I had a look at the website of “Churches Together in Canterbury”. There are twenty Christian communities within Canterbury. Eight of these are Anglican or Church of England, There is the Salvation Army, then one United Reformed community, one Baptist Community, one Methodist Community, one French Protestant (Huguenot Community), one Quaker Community.
There are three churches that identify themselves as evangelical, one nondenominational community and one a member of the Assemblies of God UK fellowship, and us, a Catholic community. I asked myself: “how committed am I to working with these communities and to what extent is Christian Unity a priority for us as a parish?” The Second Vatican Council stressed that division among Christian communities “openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature” (Unitatis redintegratio [UR] §1).
I am not sure to what extent are we in Canterbury are a visible sign of unity. Yes, we have a Churches Together website, and until lockdown, ministers were meeting once a month. We organise a Good Friday walk of witness and during the pandemic there has been much cooperation among the churches in supporting the work of the Salvation Army. In the past there has been a service together during this Octave of prayer. What is noticeable is that this year there seems to be nothing planned by the Churches together in Canterbury (CTC). At least there is nothing on any of our individual websites.
In the revised Document from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity entitled; The Bishop and Christian Unity we read: “The real, though incomplete, communion that already exists between Catholics and other baptised Christians can and must be deepened at a number of levels simultaneously. Pope Francis has captured this in the phrase, “walking together, praying together and working together”. By sharing our Christian lives with other Christians, by praying with and for them, and by giving common witness to our Christian faith through action, we grow into the unity which is the Lord’s desire for his Church. The theme chosen for the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity this year “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit”, is based on John 15:1-17. I suggest that at St Thomas we will celebrate a Votive Mass for Christian Unity during this week and each day we pray for a different Christian Community and their leaders.
Loving Lord look kindly on the Christian communities in Canterbury that we whom one baptism has consecrated may be joined together by integrity of faith and unity in the bond of charity.