Resources for The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and throughout the year 2015 (4)

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PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITYResources for The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and throughout the year 2015 (4)

 

 

Resources for 
THE WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY 
and throughout the year 2015

Jesus said to her: "Give me to drink" 
(John 4:7)

DAY 6

TESTIMONY
Jesus said: "The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14)

   
Exodus 2:15-22 Moses at the well of Midian
Psalm 91 The song of those who take refuge in the Lord
1 John 4:16-21 Perfect love casts out fear
John 4:11-15 "A spring of water welling up to eternal life"


Commentary


The dialogue that begins with Jesus asking for water becomes a dialogue in which Jesus promises water. Later in this same gospel Jesus will again ask for a drink. "I thirst," he says from the cross, and from the cross Jesus becomes the promised fountain of water which flows from his pierced side. We receive this water, this life from Jesus, in baptism, and it becomes a water, a life that wells up within us to be given and shared with others.


Here is the witness of a Brazilian woman who has drunk from this water and in whom this water becomes a spring:


Sister Romi, a nurse from Campo Grande, was a pastor in the Pentecostal tradition. One Sunday night, all alone in a shack, in Romi’s neighbourhood a sixteen year old indigenous girl called Semei gave birth to a baby boy. She was found lying on the floor and bleeding. Sister Romi took her to the hospital. Enquiries were made – where was Semei’s family? They were found, but they did not want to know. Semei and her child had no home to go to. Sister Romi took them into her own modest home. She did not know Semei, and prejudice towards indigenous people is great in Campo Grande. Semei continued to have health problems, but Sister Romi’s great generosity brought forth further generosity from her neighbours.


Another new mother, a Catholic called Veronica, breastfed Semei’s child as she was unable to do so. Semei named her son Luke Nathanial and in time they were able to move away from the city to a farm, but she did not forget the kindness of Sister Romi and her neighbours.


The water that Jesus gives, the water that Sister Romi received in baptism, became in her a spring of water and an offer of life to Semei and her child. Prompted by her witness, this same baptismal water became a spring, a fountain, in the lives of Romi’s neighbours. The water of baptism springing into life becomes an ecumenical witness of Christian love in action, a foretaste of the eternal life which Jesus promises.


Concrete gestures like these practiced by ordinary people are what we need in order to grow in fellowship. They give witness to the Gospel and relevance to ecumenical relations.


Questions

  1. How do you interpret Jesus’ words that through him we may become "a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14)?

  2. Where do you see Christian people being springs of living water for you and for others?

  3. Which are the situations in public life to which the churches should speak with a single voice in order to be springs of living water?

Prayer


Triune God,
following the example of Jesus, 
make us witnesses to your love. 
Grant us to become instruments of justice, peace and solidarity. 
May your Spirit move us towards concrete actions that lead to unity. 
May walls be transformed into bridges. 
This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. 
Amen.


DAY 7

TESTIMONY
"Give me to drink" (John 4:7)

   
Numbers 20:1-11 The Israelites at Meribah
Psalm 119:10-20 "I will not forget your word"
Romans 15:2-7 "May God…grant you to live in harmony with one another"
John 4:7-15 "Give me to drink"


Commentary


Christians should be confident that encountering and exchanging experiences with the other, even other religious traditions, can change us and help us to reach into the depths of the well. Approaching those who are strangers to us with the desire to drink from their well, opens to us the "wonders of God" that we proclaim.


In the wilderness God’s people were without water and God sent Moses and Aaron to bring water forth from the rock. In the same way God often meets our needs through others. As we call upon the Lord in our need, like the Samaritan asking Jesus, "Sir, give me this water," perhaps the Lord has already answered our prayers by putting into the hands of our neighbours that for which we ask. And so we need to turn also to them, and ask, "Give me to drink."

Sometimes the answer to our need is already in the life and goodwill of the people around us. From the Guarany people of Brazil we learn that in their language there is no equivalent word for the term "religion" as separate from the rest of life. The expression usually used literally means "our good way of being" ("ñande reko katu"). This expression refers to the whole cultural system, which includes religion. Religion, therefore, is part of the Guarany cultural system, as well as their way of thinking and being (teko). It relates to all that improves and develops the community and leads to its "good way of being" (teko katu). The Guarany people remind us that Christianity was first called "The Way" (Acts 9:2). "The Way," or "our good way of being" is God’s way of bringing harmony to all parts of our lives.


Questions

  1. How has your understanding and experience of God been enriched by the encounter with other Christians?

  2. What can Christian communities learn from indigenous wisdom and other religious traditions in your region? 

Prayer


God of life, who cares for all creation, and calls us to justice and peace, 
may our security not come from arms, but from respect. 
May our force not be of violence, but of love. 
May our wealth not be in money, but in sharing. 
May our path not be of ambition, but of justice. 
May our victory not be from vengeance, but in forgiveness. 
May our unity not be in the quest of power, but in vulnerable witness to do your will. 
Open and confident, may we defend the dignity of all creation, sharing, today and forever, the bread of solidarity, justice and peace.
This we ask in the name of Jesus, your holy Son, our brother, who, as victim of our violence, even from the heights of the cross, gave forgiveness to us all. 
Amen.

(Adapted from a prayer from an ecumenical conference in Brazil, calling for an end to poverty as the first step on the path to peace through justice)


DAY 8

WITNESS
Many believed because of the woman’s testimony (John 4:39)

   
Exodus 3:13-15 Moses at the Burning Bush
Psalm 30 The Lord restores us to life
Romans 10:14-17 "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
John 4:27-30.39-40 Many believed because of the woman’s testimony


Commentary


With her heart transformed, the Samaritan woman goes out in mission. She announces to her people that she has found the Messiah. Many believed in Jesus "because of the woman’s witness" (John 4:39). The force of her witness stems from the transformation of her life caused by her encounter with Jesus. Thanks to her attitude of openness, she recognised in that stranger "a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (Jn 4:14)


Mission is a key element of Christian faith. Every Christian is called to announce the name of the Lord. Pope Francis told missionaries, "wherever you may go, it would do you well to think that the Spirit of God always gets there ahead of us". Mission is not proselytism. Those who truly announce Jesus approach others in loving dialogue, open to mutual learning, and respecting difference. Our mission requires us to learn to drink from the living water without taking hold of the well. The well does not belong to us. Rather, we draw life from the well, the well of living water which is given by Christ.

Our mission must be a work both of word and witness. We seek to live out what we proclaim. The late Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara, once said that many have become atheists because they have become disillusioned by people of faith who do not practice what they preach. The witness of the woman led her community to believe in Jesus because her brothers and sisters saw coherence between her words and her own transformation.


If our word and witness is authentic, the world will hear and believe. "How are they to believe if they have not heard?" (Rom 10:14).


Questions

  1. What is the relationship between unity and mission?

  2. Do you know people in your community whose life story is a witness to unity?

Prayer


God, spring of living water, 
Make of us witnesses of unity through both our words and our lives. Help us to understand that we are not the owners of the well, And give us the wisdom to welcome the same grace in one another.
Transform our hearts and our lives 
So that we might be genuine bearers of the Good News. 
And lead us always to the encounter with the other, 
As an encounter with you. 
We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, 
In the unity of the Holy Spirit. 
Amen.

THE ECUMENICAL SITUATION IN BRAZIL


The ecumenical movement in Brazil has roots in the experience of interdenominational cooperation between different Protestant missionary agencies operating in the country since the 19th century. Encouraged by pan-protestant cooperation, in 1903 the Presbyterian Pastor Erasmo Braga pioneered the organization of the Evangelical Alliance and Christian Effort. Both institutions aimed at promoting unity among different Protestant groups and cooperation in evangelism and education. These organizations also committed themselves to uphold the republican principle of religious equality.

The 1916 Congress of Panama(1), dedicated to interdenominational missionary cooperation in Latin America, significantly strengthened these initiatives. Following the Panama Congress, the Brazilian Cooperation Committee was established. It brought together nineteen ecclesial communities, including churches, missionary societies and other evangelical organizations.


In 1934, the Evangelical Confederation of Brazil (CEB) was created in order to promote the ecumenical movement. The CEB later played an important role in promoting the ideals of the World Council of Churches. The churches that participated in the creation of CEB were the Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian churches of Brazil and the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil. They were joined by the Evangelical Church of Lutheran Confession in Brazil in 1959, by the Foursquare Gospel Church in 1963, and by the Pentecostal Church Brazil for Christ in 1968.


Mission was an important topic for CEB. This led to the creation of the Council of Interchurch Relations, which had the task of coordinating the missionary work undertaken by different mission bodies so as to avoid the duplication of efforts and competition among different agencies and churches.

Another well-known dimension of CEB’s work(2) was its circular letters that addressed social issues in Brazil such as the need for land reform, improving education, literacy courses and campaigns in emergencies.


Youth church movements played an important role in this attempt to reflect on the church's social responsibility within the Brazilian context. An important event that helped to strengthen these initiatives was the World Conference of Christian Youth, which occurred in the late 1940s, in Oslo. In that Conference, the young Brazilians had access to new biblical and theological perspectives from Europe and the United States.


The greater involvement of young Brazilians with international Christian youth movements such as the Universal Federation of Student Christian Movements (WSCF) was an important factor in the development of a theology of the Social Gospel and the gradual organization of reading groups and contextualized biblical interpretations, capable of establishing dialogue with the social reality. The churches were forced to confront the issues of social and economic conflict which continued to emerge in these groups.


The context of fermentation was intensified by the influence of the American theologian Richard Shaull, a pioneer in the formulation of a theology of Revolution. Another important influence was the example of French Catholic priests who sought to live alongside the poor and who became an inspiration for many young Christians in Brazil. The challenge was to foster a theology that incorporated both Brazilian culture and the problems of Brazilian society in its reflection.


This experience deepened in 1953, with the creation of the Division of Social Responsibility of the Church in the CEB. The objective of the new division was to study the implications of faith at a national level and to evaluate social work and evangelization with regard to the social and political contexts. As a result, four national conferences were organized to understand the reality of the country and identify prospects from a Protestant perspective.


The topics covered in these four conferences were: Social Responsibility of the Church (1955), Study on the Social Responsibility of the Church (1955), The Church's presence in the Evolution of Nationality (1960) and Jesus Christ and the Brazilian Revolutionary Process (1962). By the third and fourth conferences one begins to see an openness to dialogue with Roman Catholics, who were also meeting to discuss the social and political problems of the country.


The development of the ecumenical movement in the 1950s and 1960s was marked by its critical perspective of the prevailing models of economic development. The concepts of "progress" and "industrialization" were invoked to justify the accumulation of wealth by a few while a many of the population were denied access to either the goods produced or the wealth created. Inspired by the four conferences, the ecumenical focus on mission and social change also reverberated in the Roman Catholic Church. One of its journals published some of the results. The theological reflection on the social responsibility of the Church contributed to the unfolding of the ecumenical movement as a project of unity between the churches which held together evangelism and social engagement.


In the years following the 1964 military coup, the CEB was progressively dismantled. However, the ecumenical work which the Confederation promoted did not entirely disappear. As a result of Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church in Brazil increasingly opened to dialogue with other Christians and was increasingly aware of the social responsibility of the Church. In the face of political repression, the doctrinal differences which separated the churches were of secondary importance to the pressing social problems faced by the Brazilian people, and this contributed to the reinvigoration of the ecumenical movement.


In the context of military dictatorship, ecumenical groups of Protestants and Roman Catholics, and which also included some non-Christians, started to promote human rights, denounce torture, and to pursue democratic openness. These ecumenical coalitions strengthened other groups and projects that had as their goal the promotion of social values related to human rights. This is the background of the Project Brasil Nunca Mais (Brazil Never Again) jointly developed by the World Council of Churches and the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo in the 1980s. Coordinated by Presbyterian Pastor Jaime Wright and the Archbishop of São Paulo, Dom Paulo Evaristo Cardinal Arns, the project sought to prevent legal papers for political crimes from being destroyed at the end of the military dictatorship, and to gather information about torture practiced by the political repression. It was hoped that the disclosure of violations of human rights committed by the military would fulfil an educational role within Brazilian society.


Particular situations of oppression and human rights issues have remained at the centre of the ecumenical movement in Brazil. In this sense, it is important to highlight the contribution made by theologians from different churches who were identified with the ecumenical movement. For example ecumenical collaboration in Biblical studies has prompted the discussion about the situation of women both in society and in the Church.


Since 1975, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Church of Lutheran Confession in Brazil, the Episcopal Anglican Church, and the Methodist Church began to envisage together the establishment of a National Council of Churches. Their vision became a reality in 1982, when CONIC was created. For the whole ecumenical movement in Brazil, the National Council of Churches represents the ins