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The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity focuses on forgiveness

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Brick by brick, a wall was erected in the sanctuary, symbolizing sins of intolerance, division, abuse of power and pride. One by one the bricks, made of clear plastic blocks covered with brown paper, were removed, revealing a candle burning brightly. “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us,” the congregation repeated after each sin was named and a plea for forgiveness was given.

Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge joined Bishop Richard Graham of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Bishop Ted Gulick of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and Rev. Tom Joyce of the Virginia Conference of United Methodist Church at Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church Jan. 24 for the annual prayer service during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Father Don J. Rooney, pastor of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield, was the homilist.

"How many churches for how many centuries have been certain of their own rightness?" asked Father Don J. Rooney

More than 100 people of various Christian faiths came to work toward reconciliation with the theme, "Reconciliation — The Love of Christ Compels Us.” The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, this year Jan. 18 -25, began 109 years ago.

“How many churches for how many centuries have been certain of their own rightness? And now not only can’t recognize their sisters and brothers, can’t even identify the love of the Father at work in front of them, not even a memory of his goodness?” Father Rooney asked in his homily.

Father Rooney said nearly 1 million Christians died in the past 10 years because they were Christian. He said that they were all holy martyrs.

“Would we be less loving or show less honor to any one of these, embracing them in their last moments on this earth, because their faithfulness to Jesus to the point of death wasn’t according to our expression of faith?”

Bishop Burbidge said in a statement prior to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, “As this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, our focus on reconciliation is all the more needful.

“May the love of Christ compel each of us to renew our active participation in this journey — this week and beyond,” he added.

Roy O’Connor, a parishioner of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield, said in the years since the Reformation, people have become comfortable within their own congregation and worshipping separately.

“I think what the churches are trying to focus on is not what keeps us apart but what we have in common,” said his wife, Lynn. “The more we see that we are pretty similar and the more we understand one another, the more comfortable you are with it.”

Rev. Joyce said in advance of the event that the message of reconciliation is more important than ever given the environment in which we live.

“We are not trying to eradicate the differences, but trying to affirm a common unity with our differences,” he said. “It’s important to tear down walls not to eliminate the differences but appreciate the differences in a cooperative spirit.”

Bishop Gulick said in an advance interview that the week of prayer is a reminder that we have come a long way but there still is more to be done. “We get together to worship in the ways we can worship,” he said. He pointed to an ongoing and deepening relationship between the Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodist churches in Virginia, as part of LARCUM.

Mairin Moriarty, a sophomore at Marymount University in Arlington, helped build and tear down the symbolic wall.

“I thought the event was a wonderful time to keep in mind my friends who are not Catholic, but Christian, Muslim or whichever denomination,” she said. “I want them to know spiritually that I care about them and I accept what they believe.”

Bishop Gulick said the ecumenical movement is turning into a joint effort to serve the world and as Christians evangelize the world.

“There are things that are deeper than our separation,” he said. “We have one baptism and the clarity that we’re all brothers and sisters.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017