Why Christian Unity Week Begins January 18

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Originally called the “Octave of Christian Unity”, the week began with the traditional feast of St. Peter’s Chair and highlighted his confession of faith.

Every year the Catholic Church, along with many other Christian churches around the world, celebrates the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” from January 18 to 25.

In recent years, it is always explained that this week ends with the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul on January 25. However, we often forget that this week began with a feast of Saint Peter, called the St. Peter’s Chair in Rome, formerly celebrated on January 18.

Many Anglicans continue to celebrate a similar feast on this day called the Confession of Saint Peter, emphasizing the confession of faith that St. Peter gave in support of the divinity of Jesus.

The choice to begin a week of prayer for Christian unity on January 18 was deliberate, made by Fr. Paul Wattson, considered the “founder” of this week.

Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity

A 2008 article in L’Osservatore Romano explain how it happened.

Prof. Wattson’s English friend, Spencer Jones, suggested that there should be an annual day of prayer and preaching on the office of the papacy. He mentioned that June 29, the feast of St. Peter, would be a very appropriate day for this devotion.

In reply to Reverend Jones on November 30, 1907, Fr. Paul wrote: “The ‘Peter’s sermon’ suggestion is good. In addition to that, what do you think of inaugurating a week of Church unity beginning with St. Peter’s pulpit in Rome on January 18 and ending with St. Paul’s?

This became known as Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, and was finally approved by Pope Pius X in 1916.

The week, framed by these two feasts, highlights the foundation of Christian unity, solidly built on the faith of Saint Peter and reinforced by the writings and example of Saint Paul.

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