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Week of Prayer for Christian Unity?
Q. The calendar my parish gives out each year notes a “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” beginning Friday. Can you give me details? -- P. T., via email
A. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is traditionally celebrated every year from January 18 to 25, so it begins today. These dates were proposed a century ago to include the days between two dates with great symbolic significance for Christians.
In ancient Rome, January 18 was one of the dates when the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter was traditionally celebrated. (It was celebrated in some places on February 22, which is the date when we celebrate the feast today.) January 25, of course, is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. In the southern hemisphere, where January is a vacation time, Christians often find other days to celebrate the week of prayer. Some choose Pentecost, which is also has symbolic meaning for the unity of the church.
The theme chosen for this year is taken from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17). The texts for reflection and prayer were prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.
Each day of the week will have its own theme:
January 18: Pray always. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17).
January 19: Pray always, trusting God alone. “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Th 5:18).
January 20: Pray without ceasing for the conversion of hearts. “Admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted” (1 Th 5:14).
January 21: Pray always for justice. “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all” (1 Th 5:15).
January 22: Pray constantly with a patient heart. “Be patient with all of them” (1 Th 5:14).
January 23: Pray always for grace to work with God. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:16).
January 24: Pray for what we need. “Help the weak” (1 Th 5:14).
January 25: Pray always that they all may be one. “Be at peace” (1 Th 5:13b)
On Friday, January 25 (the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul), at the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI will preside at the celebration of Vespers to mark the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The Vatican website has more information: click here»
Numbers in Papal Audiences?
Q. I recently attended a general audience with Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s and was amazed by the number of people attending despite bad weather. What kinds of crowds has the Holy Father been attracting? -- J. K., via email
A. According to statistics recently released by the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household, almost three million people took part in public meetings with the Holy Father during the year 2007, either in the Vatican or at his summer residence of Castelgandolfo.
A total of 2,830,100 people attended the Wednesday general audiences, special audiences, liturgical celebrations and Sunday Angelus prayers during the course of the year.
The Wednesday general audiences, held in St. Peter’s Square and Paul VI Hall, attracted 729,100 people. In fact, this number represents the number of tickets distributed without taking into account the thousands who typically arrive without tickets and also take part in the audiences.
The Angelus prayers of 2007 drew 1,450,000 people to St. Peter’s Square (155,000 more than last year), while 442,000 attended the various liturgical ceremonies presided over by the Pope.
The greatest numbers at the Wednesday general audiences (130,000) and the liturgical celebrations (250,000) were in the month of April, which included Holy Week observances.
Immaculate Conception vs. Virgin Birth
Q. The Immaculate Conception. Isn’t this often confused with the Virgin Birth? Your comments, please. Thank you. -- Frank Schulze, via email
A. Each year at Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, my pastor asks those assembled for a show of hands: How many, he says, think that the term “Immaculate Conception” refers to Jesus’ miraculous origins?
Admittedly, the congregation always includes a number of visitors who may not be Catholic; our Cathedral is magnificent and attracts many thousands of tourists each year. In any case, a number of hands typically go up. Then my pastor gently explains, once again, the difference between “Immaculate Conception” and “Virgin Birth.”
The “Immaculate Conception” refers not to Our Lord, but to Our Lady. In the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of Dec. 8, 1854, Pope Piux IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”
After our first parents sinned and fell from their original state of perfect righteousness, they passed on to their descendants the resulting loss (or defect) of righteousness. This common corruption of our human nature is called “original sin.”
By a special act of divine grace, Our Lady was conceived, through the union of her natural father and mother, without this defect of righteousness, which has afflicted all other humans except for her divine Son.
The Virgin Birth, on the other hand, refers to Our Lord’s being brought into the world by a woman, Our Lady, who had never known a man sexually. He was conceived, not only without original sin, but also without a human father.
Patron Saint of Singapore?
Q. I am curious to know who is the patron saint of Southeast Asia and Singapore. -- V. S., via email
A. St. Thomas the Apostle and St. Francis Xavier are called the two patron saints of “the East Indies.” This term is most often used to refer to the islands of Southeast Asia, especially the Malay Archipelago. But in the past, “East Indies” was also used to refer to all of Southeast Asia, which of course includes Singapore.
According to ancient tradition, St. Thomas (first century A.D.) was one of the first Christian missionaries to the East, bringing the gospel to Parthia (modern Iran) and India. St. Francis Xavier (1505–52), one of the first members of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), also went as a missionary to the East, ministering in India, the East Indies, the Pacific Islands and Japan. His converts are estimated to have been in the hundreds of thousands, earning him the titles “the Apostle of the Indies” and “the Apostle of Japan.”
I emailed the Archdiocese of Singapore last week to ask this question, but haven’t yet received a reply. When I receive a more definitive reply from them, I’ll publish it here.
Pope’s Mailing Address?
Q. Could you give me the full mailing address for the Pope? I know my chances are slim of a letter actually getting to him; however, I would like to try. Thank you. -- C.B., via email
A. Apparently, the Pope receives a huge volume of mail from around the globe, so he no doubt has others read most of it for him. Nevertheless, I assume that someone in the Vatican will read what you have to say, so it’s worth the effort. Here’s the address:
His Holiness Benedict XVI
00120 Vatican City State
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