This Week is traditionally observed from 18th to 25th January (the octave between the Feasts of Saints Peter and Paul). In some areas, however, it is observed at Pentecost or some other convenient time.
Each year the material is prepared by an ecumenical group of Christians from a chosen part of the world, with material then made available to national or equivalent groups to produce and distribute within their areas. This pattern is also that of the (Women’s) World Day of Prayer.
- The Octave began in 1908 (as the Octave of Christian Unity) on dates proposed by a Franciscan, Father Paul Wattons, with official blessing by Pope Pius X and encouragement from Pope Benedict XV for “its observance throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church”.
- In the 1920s Protestant leaders also proposed an annual Octave of Prayer for Unity among Christians, in the weeks leading to Pentecost.
- In 1935 Abbé Paul Couturier advocated prayer “for the unity of the Church as Christ wills it”, thereby enabling the participation of other Christians; he proposed the name “Universal Week of Prayer for Christian Unity”, a proposal accepted by the Roman Catholic Church in 1966.
- In 1941 the (Protestant) Faith and Order Conference changed the date to that observed by Catholics.
- In 1948, with the founding of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity became increasingly recognised by churches throughout the world.
- From 1958 representatives of Roman Catholicism and the WCC (including Orthodox churches) began co-operative preparation of material for the Week. From 1968 there has been official use of materials prepared jointly by the Faith and Order Commission and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Resources for 2019 have been prepared by Christians of Indonesia (the largest country in South East Asia comprising over 17,000 islands, 1,340 different ethnic groups and over 740 local languages – the “lingua franca” is Bahasa Indonesia. Indonesia has the largest Islamic population of any country – estimated as being over 86% (pop. 260 million). About 10% of Indonesians are Christians.
The key text for The Week – “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16, 18-20) resonates with the reality of life in a country rich in resources but with many people living in poverty, with tensions between rich and poor, a division often exacerbated by differences between particular ethnic and religious groups.
The material emphasises the need for unity alongside this diversity; it also highlights issues of economic injustice and how religious pluralism can meet challenges of radicalisation.
Material for use in the British Isles, made available by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), includes a leaflet with daily devotions and an Order of Service for united worship. Reflections include ‘Go and Do’ action points provided by Christian Aid.