"They showed us unusual kindness"
The materials for the 2020 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity have been prepared by the Christian churches in Malta and Gozo (Christians Together in Malta). On 10th February many Christians in Malta celebrate the Feast of the Shipwreck of St Paul, marking and giving thanks for the arrival of Christian faith on these islands. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles used for the feast is the text chosen for this year’s Week of Prayer. The story begins with Paul being taken to Rome as a prisoner (Acts 27:1ff). Paul is in chains, but even in what turns out to be a perilous journey, the mission of God continues through him. This narrative is a classic drama of humanity confronted by the terrifying power of the elements. The passengers on the boat are at the mercy of the forces of the seas beneath them and the powerful tempest that rages about them. These forces take them into unknown territory, where they are lost and without hope.
Today many people are facing the same terrors on the same seas. The very same places named in the reading (27:1, 28:1) also feature in the stories of modern-day migrants. In other parts of the world many others are making equally dangerous journeys by land and sea to escape natural disasters, warfare and poverty. Their lives, too, are at the mercy of immense and coldly indifferent forces – not only natural, but political, economic and human. This human indifference takes various forms: the indifference of those who sell places on unseaworthy vessels to desperate people; the indifference of the decision not to send out rescue boats; and the indifference of turning migrant ships away. This names only a few instances. As Christians together facing these crises of migration this story challenges us: do we collude with the cold forces of indifference, or do we show “unusual kindness” and become witnesses of God’s loving providence to all people?
Please note: This is the international version of the text. Kindly contact your local Bishops’ Conference or Synod of your Church to obtain an adaptation of this text for your local context.
Week of Prayer 2020 English.pdf
BIBLICAL REFLECTIONSAND PRAYERS FOR THE EIGHT DAYS
Throwing the cargo overboard Acts 27:18-19,21
“We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle overboard... Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul thenstood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss’.”
As Christians from different Churches and Traditions, we have unfortunately, over the centuries, accumulated abundantbaggage consisting of mutual distrust, bitterness and suspicion. We thank the Lord for the birth and the growth of the ecumenical movement over the past century. Our encounter with Christians from other traditions and our common prayer forChristian unity encourage us to seek mutual forgiveness, reconciliation and acceptance. We must not allow the baggage of our past to hinder us from drawing closer to one another. It is the Lord’s will that we let go, in order to let God!
Forgiving God, set us free from the painful memories of the past,that wound our shared Christian life. Lead us to reconciliationso that, through the Holy Spirit we may overcome hatred with love, anger with gentleness, and suspicion with trust. We ask this in the name of your beloved Son, our brother Jesus. Amen.
Seeking and showing forth Christ’s light Acts 27:20
“When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”Psalm 119:105-110
Christ is our light and our guide. Without the light and guidance of Christ, we become disorientated. When Christians lose sight of Christ, they grow fearfuland divided from one another. Moreover many people of good will outside the Church are unable to see the light of Christ because in our Christian division we reflect Christ’s light less clearly or, at times, block it out completely. As we seek the light of Christ, we are drawn closer to one another, and so mirror this light more clearly, becoming truly a sign of Christ, the light of the world. Prayer
God, your word is alight to our steps and without you we are lost and disorientated.Enlighten us so that, through your word, we may walk your path. May our churches crave your guiding, consoling and transforming presence. Give us the honesty we need to recognize when we make it difficult for others to see your light, and the grace we need to share your light with others. We ask this in the name of your Son,who calls us, his followers, to be light to the world. Amen.
Paul’s message Acts 27:22,34
“I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship... none of you will lose a hair from your heads...”Psalm 27
As Christians belonging to churches and traditions that are not fully reconciled to one another, we are often discouraged by the lack of progress towards visible unity. Indeed, some have given up all hope and see this unity as an unattainable ideal. Others do noteven see unity as a necessary part of their Christian faith. As we pray for this gift of visible unity, let us do so with steadfast faith, enduring patience and expectant hope, trusting in God’s loving providence. Unity is the Lord’s prayer for the Church and he is accompanying us on this journey. We will not be lost.
God of mercy, lost and disheartened, we turn to you. Instil in us your gift of hope. May our churches hope and strive for the unity for which your Son prayed on the eve of his passion. We ask this through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
Do not be afraid, believe Acts 27:23-26
“For the last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we will have to run aground on some island.”
ReflectionIn the midst of the tempest Paul’s encouragement and hope contradicted the fear and despair of his fellow travellers. Our common call to be disciples of Jesus Christ entails being a sign of contradiction. In a world riven with anxieties, we are called to stand as witnesses to hope by placing our trust in God’s loving providence. Christian experience shows us that God writes straight on crooked lines, and we know, against all odds, we will not drown or be lost. Because God’s steadfast love endures for ever.PrayerAlmighty God, our personal suffering leads us to cry out in pain and we shrink in fear when we experience sickness, anxiety or the death of loved ones. Teach us to trust you.May the churches we belong to be signs of your providential care. Make us true disciples of your Son who taught us to listen to your wordand to serve one another.In confidence we ask this in the name of your Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Breaking bread for the journey
Acts 27:33-36“Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing.Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.’After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat.Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.”Psalm 77
Paul’s invitation to eat is an exhortation to those in the boat to strengthen themselves for what lies ahead. This taking of bread marks a change of attitude, as those in the boat move from despair to courage. In a similar way the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper provides us with food for the journey and re-orientates us to life in God. We are made strong. The breaking of the bread –at the core of Christian community life and worship –builds us up as we commit ourselves to Christian service. We long for the day when all Christians will be able to share at the same table of the Lord’s Supper and draw strength from one bread and one cup.
Loving God, your Son Jesus Christbroke bread and shared the cup with his friends on the eve of his passion. May we grow together in closer communion. Following the example of Paul and the early Christians,give us strength to build bridges of compassion, solidarity and harmony. In the power of the Holy Spirit,we ask this in the name of your Son, who gives his life that we might live. Amen.
Show unusual kindness Acts 28:1-2, 7
“After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us round it... Now in the neighbourhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days.”
ReflectionAfter the traumas and conflicts of the storm at sea, the practical care offered by the islanders is experienced as an unusual kindness by those washed up on the shores. Such kindness demonstrates our common humanity. The Gospel teaches us that when we care for those in distress we are showing love to Christ himself (cf.Matthew25:40). Furthermore, when we show loving kindness to the weak and dispossessed we are attuning our hearts to the heart of God in which the poor have a special place. Welcoming outsiders, whether they be people of other cultures or beliefs, immigrants or refugees, is both to love Christ himself, and to love as God loves. As Christians, we are called to step out in faith and reach out with God’s all-embracing love, even to those we find difficult to love.
God of the orphan, the widow and the stranger, instil in our hearts a deep sense of hospitality. Open our eyes and hearts when you ask us to feed you, to clothe you and to visit you. May our churches participatein the ending of hunger, thirst and isolation and in overcoming barriers that prevent the welcome of all people. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus, who is present in the least of our sisters and brothers. Amen.
Changing our hearts and minds Acts 28:3-6“
Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand.When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.’He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.”
ReflectionThe locals realized that their judgment of Paul as a murderer was wrong, so they changed their minds. The extraordinary event with the viper enables the islanders to see things in a new way, a way which might prepare them to hear the message of Christ through Paul. In our search for Christian unity and reconciliation we are often challenged to rethink how we perceive other traditions and cultures. This demands an ongoing conversion to Christ in which the churches learn to overcome their perception of the other as a threat. As a result, our pejorative views of others will be cast away, and we will be drawn closer to unity.
Almighty God,we turn to you with repentant hearts. In our sincere quest for your truth, purify us from our unjust opinions of othersand lead the churches to grow in communion. Help us let go of our fears,and so better understand each other and the stranger in our midst.We ask this in the name of the Just One, your beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
THE ECUMENICAL SITUATION IN MALTA
Malta, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, received the Christian faith through the efforts of the Apostle, Paul, after he was shipwrecked there while travelling to Rome. In Acts 27 and 28, we read the detailed narrative describing the terrible storm at sea, the ‘providential’ shipwreck and the subsequent welcome afforded to the 276individuals on the vessel who all made it safely to shore. Paul’s healing ministry in Malta is also briefly described in the same New Testament text.During its long and chequered history, Malta was ruled by various powers: the Carthaginians, the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, the Aragonese, the Knights of the Order of St John, the French and the British. Malta became an independent nation within the British Commonwealth in 1964. In 2004, it joined the European Union. The Christian faith is deeply rooted in the culture of the inhabitants of Malta and its sister island of Gozo. Although the current population of about 430,000 is predominantly Roman Catholic, there are significant groups of Christians belonging to other traditions. Ecumenism is not a new experience to the local population. Being at the crossroads of civilizations, religions, trade and migration, has made t
ECUMENICAL WORSHIP SERVICE
Notes for the Worship Service
As an island nation, boats are an important part of Maltese life. The Scripture reading in this service describes a perilous seavoyage by the Apostle Paul. A boat is also symbolic of the sometimes tempestuous journey Christians make together towards unity. For these reasons, it is suggested that prior to the service, a boat or a large model of a boat is placed in the worship space.
Given its length and technical nautical language, the reading from the Acts of the Apostles requires very careful proclamation. Consideration may be given to dividing the speaking roles among a number of readers, or the use of drama or other media to aid the proclamation. The text might be proclaimed from a point near the boat.
Order of Service
“They showed us unusual kindness” (cf. Acts 8:2)
Hymn During the singing of the introductory hymn, church leaders and representatives enter the venue for the ecumenical service of prayer for Christian Unity. They are led by a participant carrying the Bible for all to see. The Bible is placed in a place of honour in the centre of the worshipping community.
Words of Welcome
L The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,the love of God,and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,be with you all.
C And also with you.
L Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, we have assembled here to pray for unity among Christians and reconciliation in the world. Divisions among Christians have existed for many centuries. This causes great pain and is contrary to God’s will. We believe in the power of prayer. Together with Christians all over the world, we offer our prayers as we seek to overcome separation.The resources for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity have been prepared by different Christian Churches in Malta. The history of Christianity in this small island nation dates back to the time of the apostles. According to tradition, St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, reached the shores of Malta in the year 60. The narrative describing this eventful and providential episode is conveyed to us in the final two chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. This text signals the beginning of Christianity in Malta –a small country made up of two main inhabited islands, Malta and Gozo, as well as other islets –at the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, halfway between the southern tip of Sicily and Northern Africa. This biblical land lies at the crossroads of civilizations, cultures and religions. Our prayers and reflections, today, and during this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, are centred on the hospitality shown by the islanders towards those who had just been shipwrecked: “They showed us unusualkindness” (cf.Acts 28:2). May the love and respect we show each other today as we pray for Christian unity be with us throughout the whole year. Invocation of the Holy Spirit The response to each prayer may be sung by a cantor and repeated by the whole congregation.LSpirit of love, come upon this assembly and dwell among us.
C Come, Holy Spirit! (orVeni Sancte Spiritus!)LSpirit of unity, show us the path towards Christian unity.
C Come, Holy Spirit! (orVeni Sancte Spiritus!)LSpirit of hospitality, teach us to be welcoming.
C Come, Holy Spirit! (orVeni Sancte Spiritus!)LSpirit of compassion, instil within us an attitude of respect to all those whom we meet.
CCome, Holy Spirit! (orVeni Sancte Spiritus!)LSpirit of hope, help us to detach ourselves from all hindrances to our ecumenical journey.
CCome, Holy Spirit! (orVeni Sancte Spiritus!)Prayers of Pardon and ReconciliationThe response to each prayer may be sung by a cantor and repeated by the whole congregation.LForgive us, Lord, for past mistakes, mistrust and misdeeds between Christians from different Churches and traditions.
CLord, have mercy! (orKyrie eleison!)
LForgive us, Lord, for remaining in the darkness rather than seeking the path of Light; for you, O Lord, are the only true Light.
CLord, have mercy! (orKyrie eleison!)
LForgive us, Lord, for our lack of faith and for our failure to be people of expectant hope and authentic charity
.CLord, have mercy! (orKyrie eleison!)
LForgive us, Lord, for having caused pain, hardship and anguish to others.
CLord, have mercy! (orKyrie eleison!)
LForgive us, Lord, for isolating ourselves and remaining indifferent, instead of showing hospitality to all, especially strangers and refugees.
CLord, have mercy! (orKyrie eleison!)
LThe Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. As the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us (Ps 103:8,11-12).CAmen.Song of praiseListening to the Living Word of GodLFather in heaven, open our hearts and minds to your Word.
CYour words are spirit and life!LLead us to grow closer to each other in unity and charity.CYour word is a lamp on our path!
Reading Acts 27:18 –28:10
RThis is the Word of the Lord.
CThanks be to God who saves and who heals.
Psalm Ps 107:8-9,19-22,28-32
A cantor may sing this Psalm and the congregation is invited to sing the Response.
Response: The Lord has delivered us from the mighty waves. Let them thank the Lordfor his steadfast love,for his wonderful works to humankind.For he satisfies the thirsty,and the hungry he fills with good things.
R/.Then they cried to the Lordin their trouble,and he saved them from their distress;he sent out his word and healed them,and delivered them from destruction.
R/.Let them thank the Lordfor his steadfast love,for his wonderful works to humankind.And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.
R/.Then they cried to the Lordin their trouble,and he brought them out from their distress;he made the storm be still,and the waves of the sea were hushed.Then they were glad because they had quiet,and he brought them to their desired haven.
R/.Let them thank the Lordfor his steadfast love,for his wonderful works to humankind.Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
R/.An Alleluia acclamation may be sung before (and after) the Gospel reading.Gospel Mark 16:14-20RThis is the Word of the Lord.
CPraise to you, Lord Jesus Christ. You are the Good News!A biblical reflection or short homily follows.
The Nicene Creed
LDear brothers and sisters, as we are united in the Lord Jesus Christ, let us proclaim our common faith in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
C We believe in one God,the Father, the Almighty,maker of heaven and earth,of all that is, seen and unseen.We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,the only Son of God,eternally begotten of the Father,God from God, Light from Light,true God from true God,begotten, not made,of one Being with the Father;through him all things were made. For us and for our salvationhe came down from heaven,was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.On the third day he rose againin accordance with the Scriptures;he ascended into heavenand is seated at the right hand of the Father.He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,and his kingdom will have no end.We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,who proceeds from the Father,who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,who has spoken through the prophets.We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.We look for the resurrection of the dead,and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Prayers of the PeopleDuring the prayers, eight oars (or oar-shaped models) are brought into the assembly by members of different communities. Each oar bears a single word –Reconciliation, Enlightenment, Hope, Trust, Strength, Hospitality, Conversion and Generosity. The presentation of an oar introduces each of the petitions. After the oar has been held high, it is placed near or in the boat and a time of silent prayer follows.
A reader then announces the corresponding petition and all respond.
LWe cannot face the storms of life alone. A boat moves forward whenall row together. In the face of difficulties we recognise the need to pull together and to unite our efforts. Let us pray. In silent prayer, the first oar (Reconciliation) is brought forward, followed by the others.
RGracious God, healthe painful memories of the past which have wounded our churches and continue to keep us apart. CHear our prayer for Reconciliation.RGracious God, teach us to fix our course on Christ, the True Light.
CHear our prayer for Enlightenment.
RGracious God, strengthen our confidence in your providence when we feel overwhelmed by the storms of life.
CHear our prayer for Hope.
RGracious God, transform our many separations into harmony and our mistrust into mutual acceptance.
CHear our prayer for Trust.RGracious God, give us the courage to speak the truth with justice in love.
CHear our prayer for Strength.
RGracious God, dismantle the barriers, visible and invisible, that prevent us from welcoming our sisters and brothers who are in peril or in need.CHear our prayer for Hospitality.
RGracious God, change our hearts and the hearts of our Christian communities, that we may be agents of your healing.
CHear our prayer for Conversion.
RGracious God, open our eyes to see the whole of creation as your gift, and our hands to share its fruit in solidarity.
CHear our prayer for Generosity.
The Lord’s Prayer
LOne in Jesus Christ, let us pray together in the words he taught us.
C Our Father in heaven,hallowed be your name,yourkingdom come,your will be done,on earth as in heaven.Give us today our daily bread.Forgive us our sinsas we forgive those who sin against us.Save us from the time of trialand deliver us from evil.For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yoursnow and for ever. Amen.
LThe people of Malta welcomed Paul and his companions with unusual kindness. Let us greet each other and share the peace which is Christ’s gift to us.We are sent out together to proclaim the Good News LWe have come together as Christians,and therefore as fellow disciples.As we yearn for Christian unity, let us commit ourselves anewto work for this common goal. (Pause for silent prayer)Church leaders who are present may join in proclaiming the Prayer of Blessing.
L/LsMay God the Father, who called us from darkness into light,make us true bearers of God’s light. CAmen.
L/LsMay God the Son, who redeemed us by his precious blood,empower us to follow his example in serving others.CAmen.
L/LsMay God the Holy Spirit, who is Lord and giver of life,strengthen us to endure the shipwrecks of life and reach the shores of salvation.
L/LsMay the Almighty and Merciful God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bless and protect us now and forever.
CWe will set out together, to proclaim the wonders of God’s love. Amen! Alleluia! Amen!