Each year Christians around the world celebrate a week of prayer for Christian unity. The Week of Prayer was developed by Fr. Paul Watson, founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, and Abbé Couturier, Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Lyons, France early in the twentieth century. Some churches celebrate this week in January, others, especially in the southern hemisphere, celebrate it between Ascension and Pentecost. This year’s theme was developed by the Christian Churches of Brazil (CONIC) and was sponsored, as usual, by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches. The theme for this year is: Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (Jn 4:7)
The complete text for this story of the woman at Jacob’s well in Sichar of Samaria is found in John 4: 4-42. It is the story of Jesus who came to rest at noon and asked the woman to give him a drink. Astonished she said simply that Samaritans have nothing to do with Jews. Jesus said: “If you knew the gift of God, and who is asking you for a drink, you would have asked, and I would have given you living water.” She replied: “the Messiah is coming.” He told her: “I am he.”
The drafting committee explained that in Brazil it is customary to greet a person by offering them a drink of water (chimarrão) or some other beverage (coffee or tereré). It is both a sign of hospitality and of acceptance. To drink from another’s well is to be open to a person, their personality, their culture, and their friendship. Reflection on “the project of Jesus” in asking for a drink and offering a drink of “living water” reveals both a dialogue and a sharing. Entering this dialogue involves exchanging gifts and sharing hospitality. This does not require rejecting one’s identity, beliefs or way of life; but it does demand one’s openness to change, newness and possibilities.
During the Week of Prayer, Christians will join people from different churches, ecclesial communities and denominations, who “walk together”. They will find common cause, values, and goals together. Unity in diversity is another way of describing the goal of the Week of Prayer.