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Jan. 20, 2016

Hosted by His Eminence, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, the Service was attended by Rev. M.A. Daniel, All India General Secretary of the Methodist Church and Rev. Abhijeet Sasane, Auxiliary Secretary of the Bible Society of India.

During the past fifty-five years, the most characteristic prayer for unity has been the observance of the Christian Unity Octave celebrated by many Churches from the 18th -25th January each year.  The origins of this celebration are in the Anglican world, but it has been welcomed and adopted by the Catholic Church as well.

Each year, the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches select an ecumenical team from a specific location who provide the prayer material for the Ecumenical Service.  This year, the material has been prepared by Churches and Christian Communities from Latvia. Christianity was first brought to Eastern Latvia in the 10th century by Byzantine missionaries. Latvia’s story includes the evangelising mission of St Meinhard two hundred years later, and other German missionaries.  During the world wars and the Cold War, Christians were united in common witness to the Gospel - even to the point of martyrdom. The authors from Latvia hope their experience of living the Christian faith will speak to ours. The main service is inspired by the verses from Peter’s letter which reminds us that we are ‘a chosen race, a royal people’ and from Jesus’ expressed metaphors of salt and light.

It is interesting to note that the oldest baptismal font in Latvia dates from the time of the great evangeliser of Latvia, St Meinhard. It was originally located in his cathedral in Ikš?ile. Today it stands at the very centre of the Lutheran cathedral in the country’s capital, R?ga. The placement of the font so near to the Cathedral’s ornate pulpit speaks eloquently of the relationship between baptism and proclamation; this calling forms the theme of this year’s week of prayer.

The evening’s service, at the Cathedral of the Holy Name, used the symbols of the Bible, light and salt carried in procession and placed on the altar to express visually that, as Christians, we are called to proclaim the Word and to illustrate our Christian identity and mission as the salt and the light in the World.

Invocations to the Holy Spirit, prayers of reconciliation, interspersed with moments of quiet reflection, invited congregational participation and received the wholehearted rendering of the responses.  The readings taken from Isaiah and the first letter of St. Peter called to mind God’s everlasting covenant with us, His people, for He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. The Gospel, from Mathew, took us to the mountaintop to hear Jesus give us the Beatitudes and exhort us to be the salt that brings flavour and the light by which others will see and praise God, our Father.

His Eminence preached a brief homily, in which he first thanked Rev. Daniel and Rev. Sasane for their presence before reminding the faithful present that they were present to pray to the one God, Jesus Christ, in whom we all believe, conscious that he has called us and that we are a chosen race by virtue of our Baptism. His Eminence urged us to overcome our differences and allow the Spirit to work in and through us who are baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, making us disciples of Jesus.  He spoke of the symbolism of the Bible, the salt and the light that were carried in procession which again were reminders of our discipleship.  Cardinal Gracias then dwelt on two of the Beatitudes just heard in the Gospel reading: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ and ‘Blessed are the merciful’. Being poor in spirit requires us to have the right priorities, forsake materialism and look to heaven.  The second Beatitude is very appropriate to the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis – we have received the mercy of God through our Baptism and we, in turn, must share God’s mercy, love and compassion with others. We must be the peace makers, agents for reconciliation and justice, and catalysts for harmony and unity in Mumbai and India. The Christian community must become instruments of God’s mercy.

Following the homily and in keeping with the theme, His Eminence, Rev Daniel, Rev Sasane and representative members from the congregation came forward to consume a pinch of salt and then light candles from the Paschal Candle for themselves and for the congregation.  When every candle was lit, Prayers of Hope, affirming the desire to be a people of God, were led to which the congregation responded ‘Make all your people holy and one in Christ.’ The Lord’s Prayer was recited and the sign of peace exchanged.

The final blessing, a reiteration of the Beatitudes, was conferred by His Eminence, Oswald Cardinal Gracias. Fr. Jervis D’Souza thanked everyone who had participated and assisted in the Ecumenical Service and invited all to partake of the refreshments generously provided by the Rector of the Cathedral, Fr. Michael Goveas.

The Cathedral Choir, which had beautifully rendered the selection of hymns, brought the service to a close with the evocative ‘Tera Noor’ – ‘Your majesty fills the earth.’

The Ecumenical Prayer Service was arranged and organised by Fr. Gilbert De Lima, Convenor, Commission for Ecumenism, Archdiocese of Bombay.

 :January 20, 2016

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