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Many faiths gather for Christian unity prayer service

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CHESTNUT HILL — Despite the bitter cold and impending snowstorm, many braved the weather to attend a prayer for Christian unity service held at Boston College Jan. 21. The service marked the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which is celebrated by Christians throughout the world.

This year was the first time that the same prayer format was used throughout the world in the nearly 100 years since the Prayer for Christian Unity was first proposed. For the first time, the text was jointly prepared and published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.

This year’s theme was “Christ, the one foundation of the Church.” The ecumenical prayer service included songs, readings, prayers for forgiveness and Psalms. “We belong to Christ. We are his and no other’s,” read one prayer. “This fact is the foundation of our unity: In baptism, Christ has claimed us for his own, and made us all one in him. The unity we share in Christ is greater than all the differences, past and present, which divide the churches today.” The prayers were led by members of the different Christian denominations who attended.

The approximately 70 people in attendance included Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Congregationalists and Universalists. The service was presided over by Father Paul Harman, SJ, rector of the Jesuit community at Boston College; the Rev. Duke T. Gray, interim pastor at the First Parish Church in Berlin; the Rev. W. Scott Axford of the First Universalist Church in Providence, R.I.; and the Rev. S. Mark Heim, Samuel Abbot Professor of Christian Theology at Newton-Andover School of Theology, an ordained American Baptist minister, who represents his denomination on the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council and World Council of Churches.

Members of the Focolare Movement of unity, which was started by Chiara Lubich during World War II, organized and led the prayer service at Boston College.

Pauline Sebok, a member of Focolare, said the prayer service has been held in the archdiocese for many years and is a good way for Christians to come together.

"There is a long way until we really get to Christian unity, but there are so many things that we have in common and you realize that when we get together," she said. "This coming together is a testimony to the world that we have basically the same beliefs in love and the major values of the dignity of man."

A variety of young and old, priests, religious and lay people attended the service. Thao Phi resisted the temptation to stay home and avoid the cold, stormy weather.

" I wanted to come celebrate the Week of Christian Unity," Phi said. "The spirit of getting together to worship and to pray together warms up our hearts."

Maria Ferreira, director of the Focolare Movement in the Archdiocese of Boston, gave a brief description of how Focolare began in Italy and has spread to approximately 5 million adherents worldwide.

"If you could only use one word to describe the Focolare Movement it would have to be 'unity,'" Ferreira said. "The Focolare Movement has generated a new lifestyle -- one of unity. And we come here tonight knowing that we are united with those all over the world who desire this most precious gift from God."

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