The Holy Land observes a novena for Christian unity from Jan. 25-Feb. 2, following the traditional octave held Jan. 18-25.
The theme of this year's week of prayer for Christian unity is “has Christ been divided”, St. Paul's affirmation of unity in the face of divisions in the early Christian community at Corinth.
The novena held in Jerusalem will include services at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is shared among Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox; the city's Anglican cathedral; the city's Armenian Apostolic cathedral; a Lutheran church; a Syrian Orthodox church; the Cenacle; a church of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem; an Ethiopian Orthodox church; and a Greek Catholic church.
In addition, a prayer service will be held at the Chapel for Unity in Nazareth on Jan. 25.
The Octave of Christian Unity was originated by Fr. Lewis Wattson in 1899, who at the time was an Anglican priest. The previous year, he had co-founded an Anglican Franciscan religious community, the Society of the Atonement.
The Octave is traditionally observed between Jan. 18, the feast of Chair of St. Peter at Rome, and Jan. 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
The Society of the Atonement sought to join the Catholic Church, and in 1909 its members were corporately received into the Church.
Fr. Wattson's church unity octave was indulgenced by both Benedict XV and Pius XII.
Under Bl. John XXIII, the Church became more concerned with ecumenical issues; in 1960, the Pope established the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Anticipating this year's octave, Pope Francis met with a delegation of Finnish Lutherans on Jan. 17, who make an annual pilgrimage to Rome for the feast of St. Henry, Finland's patron.
“In the face of those who no longer see the full, visible unity of the Church as an achievable goal, we are invited not to give up our ecumenical efforts, faithful to that which the Lord Jesus asked of the Father, ‘that they may be one,’” the Pope told them.
“Ecumenism is in fact a spiritual process, that is realized in faithful obedience to the Father, in fulfillment of the will of Christ and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
“It is necessary that our testimony focuses on the center of our faith, on the announcement of the love of God that is manifested in Christ his Son,” said Pope Francis.
Christians of varying Churches and ecclesial communities in Palestine and Israel will gather for ecumenical prayer services at the churches of various communities.
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Octave of Christian Unity