During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18 to 25 January) millions of Christians throughout the world will be offering prayers for the unity of the Church and the unity of all people who are made in God's image. In praying for the unity of the Church, Christians are reminded of their duty to pray for the unity of all people who are made in God's image. This year, prayers will be centred around a text from 2 Corinthians, chosen by Christians in Argentina who assert that the 'treasure in clay jars' - the glory of Christ - is a gift from God to strengthen all who are suffering or sad. They firmly believe that Christians have a responsibility to share the light of Christ and welcome strangers into their midst.
In making this choice the Churches in Argentina were guided by their reflection on the fact that Argentina is a nation built up by native peoples and immigrants. Here, the resources for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, published by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) carry the same clear message: Churches have an obligation to welcome asylum seekers and refugees and be enriched by their lives and gifts.
At a time when Christians in Britain are expressing concern about the withdrawal of support from some asylum applicants, these prayers will have a particular poignancy. New measures just brought into force under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act mean that people arriving in Britain will have to claim asylum immediately or lose state support. Currently sixty per cent of refugees do not claim asylum immediately.
"We are not asking for an unlimited flow of asylum seekers to this country but what we are asking is that they should be treated with compassion and dignity as their claims are being considered," says the Revd Jean Mayland, CTBI's Coordinating Secretary for Church Life.
"All asylum seekers are made in God's image and should be treated as such. We also need to remember the treasures they bring in their insights and skills," she said.
This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the Abbe Couturier, the priest from Lyons who was a great advocate of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In 1908, Paul Watson proposed a 'church unity octave' between the feasts of St Peter (18 January) and St Paul (25 January). This was broadened by Abbe Paul Couturier's call in 1935 for a universal Week of Prayer for Unity, a unity to be achieved 'as Christ wishes and by the means which he desires'. Today, resources for the Week are used in 72 countries.
By Albert H. Lee