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Amid intense division in U.S., God calls us to love, says Arizona bishop

 012921CHRISTIAN-UNITY-WEEK

Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares of Phoenix, right, concelebrates Mass with other U.S. bishops in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 13, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

 

By Tony Gutiérrez

Catholic News Service

 

       PHOENIX (CNS) - In a time of intense division in the country, the Gospel calls us to love, Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares of Phoenix said in a virtual reflection for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 18-25.

       "Let us all pray that the Holy Spirit be poured out upon us and bring us greater love and unity among all the Christian churches," said the bishop.

       "There's so much turmoil, so much division, so much anxiety, so many terrible things going on in our world," Bishop Nevares said. "Can we listen to the Gospel - the good news of Jesus - and not only listen to it but put it into practice? This is my hope for each of us as we start this new year."

       The Arizona Faith Network organized virtual activities for the week of prayer. Phoenix's auxiliary bishop and other leaders of Christian traditions taking turns offering a video message each day of the week.

       Bishop Nevares, whose message was Jan. 18, has been involved in ecumenical efforts for a number of years through the Scottsdale, Arizona-based John 17 Movement and contributed to a book on the topic.

       In his video, the bishop reflected on Jesus' commandment to "love one another as I have loved you."

       In previous years, the Arizona Faith Network hosted a prayer service during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at different churches, with the regional leader of that church's tradition offering a reflection. Because of continuing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, organizers opted this year to offer daily meditations that individuals could access at their convenience.

       "We felt a daily meditation would help lift the diverse voices and traditions of Christianity in Arizona," said the Rev. Katie Sexton-Wood, executive director of the Arizona Faith Network.

       Archbishop Hovnan Derderian of the Armenian Apostolic Church in North America's Western Diocese - which is based out of Burbank, California, but includes Arizona in its jurisdiction - reflected on the parable of the mustard seed, urging Christians to be united against common threats and challenges.

       "If we are not able to make our lives the reflection of Christ's life and his love, if we are not able to create a Christian community, if we are not able to pursue Christian morals, if we are not able to become the torchbearers of our forefathers' faith and be the witnesses of Christ's life," he said, "then Christianity becomes solely a movement, and the community is deprived of a strong sense of commitment."

       In addition to the daily reflections, the network also sponsored an Interfaith Covid Memorial Prayer Service Jan. 19, which invited voices from Christian and non-Christian faith traditions to offer prayers.

       Although no Catholic clergy were able to participate, layman Lupe Conchas, who works as the Southwest regional organizer for the Christian anti-hunger organization Bread for the World, offered a prayer from a Catholic perspective.

       "I had my rosary on hand, so I felt called to give a prayer ... to offer up that time and space," Conchas, who attends St. Matthew Church in Phoenix, said in an interview. "This Prayer of Unity helps us come together and really focus on what matters, and for us, that's focusing on the most vulnerable communities."

       Bread for the World was founded by a Lutheran pastor in 1974, but from the beginning has brought together Christians from multiple faith traditions and includes retired Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, on its current board of directors.

       "Hunger doesn't care if you're Catholic or if you're Lutheran or if you're Presbyterian or Baptist or evangelical, hunger is going to affect everybody regardless of that," said Conchas.

       "We are very influential when we come together, and I think that we have the power to uplift the stories of Christians all across the country and all across the world," he said, "and we can focus together on the most vulnerable."

       In an interview, Father David Loeffler, director of ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the Diocese of Phoenix, reflected on the nature of Christian unity based on Jesus' "High Priestly Prayer" that "they may all be one" in John 17.

       "It's a unity that's not just uniformity, that loses distinction, but it's a unity that's modeled after the unity in the Blessed Trinity, the Comm that is the Blessed Trinity," he said. "It's closely tied to what he's about to do on the cross. Here, Jesus is speaking very close to the cross, and this is what's on His mind, what's on his heart, ‘Father, that they may be one as you and I are one.'"

       Father Loeffler added that before any steps can be taken toward unity, there must be a sincere desire for that unity. In this time of polarization, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity invites all to return to the heart of Jesus.

       "Ultimately, the Holy Spirit brings us together and enflames charity within our hearts," he said. "If you see the Week of Prayer as a week on the calendar where you have to pray for this cause among many, then it'll seem to lose some of its relevance.

       "But if you see the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity as a call to return deeply to the heart of Jesus, we find resonance because he enters into our sorrow."

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