Nearly 250 worshippers gathered at the entrance of the 300-year old St. Thomas Cathedral in Mumbai on Jan. 18, marking the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The service, organized by the National Council of Churches in India, was centered on the Week of Prayer 2004 theme, “My Peace I Give to You.”
"Christ is the provider of peace, which is possible only by fulfilling his prayer 'That they all may be one'," said Church of North India bishop of Bombay, Rev. Baiju Gavit, in his message.
The church was also the site of the interfaith World Social Forum convention to protect the rights of children from Jan 19-21. The
NCCI general secretary Rev. Dr Ipe Joseph said that the church in India is "uniquely blessed with the opportunity of hosting the national and global ecumenical community for the celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and the World Social Forum at the same time."
According to Joseph, "The spirit of the World Social Forum was further enhanced and strengthened by the affirmation of unity made at the service." The energy of the affirmation that "'Another world is possible. Let us build it!' was powered by the spirit of unity," he said.
"It is a good occasion, and I hope that these youths learn from their experience," said bishop Gavit, referring to the 50-odd young Christian delegates whose participation at the WSF was facilitated by the World Council of Churches (WCC), together with the NCCI and the Student Christian Movement in India.
Local church members shared bible readings and prayers with representatives from the worldwide ecumenical organizations scheduled to come for the WSF meeting.
NCC Pakistan general secretary Mr Victor Azariah made special mention of the peace emerging between India and Pakistan. Prof. Mohinder Singh, director of National Sikh Study Centre, brought greetings of peace on behalf of people of other faiths.
While the Week of Prayer provides "the opportunity of praying together for the unity of humanity, the presence of representatives from Pakistan and also of people of other faiths makes it evident that prayer for unity surpasses political enmities and religious diversities," Joseph also stated.
"It is indeed a privilege to be with people who share our views and are working for a better world," Siji Samuel, a Mar Thoma Church member, agreed with professor Singh. Addressing the congregation during the service, the turban-clad Singh asked it to form pressure groups to support the Dalits in their struggle for dignity.