The Peace Weekly gives us a brief history of the Octave of Prayer, whose goal is a united Christianity. The Octave began on Jan. 18 and will end on Jan. 25th, the Feast of The Conversion of St. Paul. The first great division of Christianity, between the Eastern and Western Churches, occurred in 1054; 463 years later, in 1517, the Protestant Reformation began the fragmentation of Western Christendom. 17 years later, the Church in England broke away from Rome, founding the Anglican Church. And because of theological differences within Protestantism, it has continued to splinter into many denominations.
Pope Leo 13th used the words "separated brethren," which brought a change from the use of the harsh word "heretic" used in the past. This brought a change in the way Catholicism looked upon those who had left the Church. From that time on there was a movement within Catholicism to unite all Christians.
Anglicans have been in the forefront of the movement ever since the prayer for Christian unity was written in 1908 by Father Paul Watson, an Anglican priest. Protestants joined the movement in 1926, and at the Second Vatican Council, the Church took an active interest in working for unity with its decree on ecumenism. Today, Catholics, Protestants and the Orthodox are all united in praying for unity during the Unity Octave period.
In Korea, starting from 1965, the Bishops Committee on Ecumenism has been active in promoting unity. During the last part of the 60s to 1970, they worked with Protestants for a joint-translation of the Bible, have held prayer meetings together and forums on unity. From 1965 Catholics And Anglicans have come together in prayer, and from 1986 the Protestants and Orthodox have joined together for the same purpose. Since 2001 different religious leader have met personally to work to promote unity among Christians in Korea. From 2008, Catholic deacons have been associating with the different Orthodox and Protestant groups to learn more about the other religions.
Despite the efforts of the Church there are many Catholics who are not familiar with the Unity Octave or who show little interest in the movement. Last year Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, came to Korea asking all Catholics to keep the goal of unity in their prayers.
This year the subject of the octave of prayer is: "Has Christ been divided?" The material was put together by both Protestant and Catholic leaders and is used in many parts of the world during this period of prayer. There is still opposition within the different communities that do not look on these efforts favorably, but what is important is that we are doing things together, which was not always the case. The meetings and discussions will continue, and when we do have a united awareness of the situation among the different Christians that we need to be one, we will see God's grace moving us to the unity that Christ willed before his death.