The theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25, 2013) is taken from the prophet Micah and was chosen by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches. The theme was given to a working group in India composed of the Student Christian Movement of India (SCMI) which is marking its centenary and they involved the All India Catholic University Federation and the National Council of Churches in India in preparing reflections on the theme for the coming year.
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old? Will God be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?…O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mi 6:6-8 ).
Those preparing the reflections decided to focus on the context of the great injustice to Dalits in India and in the church. The search for visible unity cannot be disassociated from the dismantling of casteism and the lifting up of contributions to unity by the poorest of the poor. The Dalits in India are the communities which are considered “outcastes.” They are the people most affected by the caste system, a rigid form of social stratification based on notions of ritual purity and pollution. The Dalits were placed outside the caste system and were previously called “untouchables”. Because of casteism the Dalits are socially marginalized, politically under-represented, economically exploited and culturally subjugated. Almost 80% of Indian Christians have a Dalit background.
Despite great progress in the twentieth century, the churches in India remain divided along the doctrinal divisions inherited from Europe and elsewhere. Christian disunity in India within churches and between them is further accentuated by the caste system. Like apartheid, racism and nationalism, casteism poses severe challenges for the unity of Christians in India and therefore, for the moral and ecclesial witness of the church as the body of Christ. It is both a church-dividing doctrinal issue as well as a moral one.
In this context the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity invites everyone to explore the text from Micah focusing upon the question: “What does God require of us?” as the main theme. The Dalit experience serves as the crucible from within which theological reflections on the biblical theme emerge.
While the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is observed in the northern hemisphere during the month of January, it is the peak of summertime in the southern hemisphere. Many churches and ecumenical agencies in the south prefer to schedule the observance of it at another time of the year, preferably in connection with Pentecost, when the church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the apostolic mission to the world. The theme and reflections for the WPCU are appropriate throughout the year.