January 21, 2018
Prayer service for Christian unity held at St. Michael’s Cathedral
Story and photos by Kathleen Harrington
SPRINGFIELD – Victor Azer, a member of St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church of Boston, made the trip to Springfield on Friday, Jan. 19, to attend the Prayers for Christian Unity service at St. Michael’s Cathedral. It was an evening he had been looking forward to for a long time.
“I’ve been praying for a night like this since I came to the United States,” Azer said. “The priest in my church, Father Samuel Hanna, sent us an email inviting us to come. I was lucky enough to see it.”
The invitation was for all Christians to come together to pray during this international week of Christian Unity. Celebrated for 100 years, the prayer service focus is on what Christian faiths have in common. On this night, 13 church leaders answered the invitation to take part. About a dozen priests and ministers also came to participate. Along with the host for the night, Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, they entered the cathedral wearing colorful vestments representing many denominations. The service opened with the hymn “Family of Faith,” that asks God to bring Christians together.
Among those taking their place on the altar were Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, the leader of the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church; Bishop Douglas Fisher of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts; and Rev. Laura Everett of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.
This year, the Churches of the Caribbean were selected to draft the materials for the week. The readings told the story of enslavement and hope: The Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt and find freedom from bondage. The Gospel reading spoke about how the healing powers of Jesus Christ will set Christians free. The night included a free will offering to help the residents of the Virgin Islands who are still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria on the islands.
In his homily, Bishop Rozanski spoke of Jesus’ healing of a young girl and a woman.
” (It’s) Healing that reaches out and touches us and gives hope to Christians everywhere. No matter our divisions, we can come together to pray. We come together civilly and what unites us is more powerful that what divides us,” he said. “May our witness bring healing peace to the world.”
Bishop Rozanski has served as the chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s (USCCB) Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
“Just as the Israelites did not give up the hope that they would reach the Promised Land, we don’t give up hope that we can be united in Christ,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience to have so many people of different faiths here in the cathedral to pray for Christian unity.”
The prayer service included common prayers like The Apostles’ Creed and The Lord’s Prayer.
“The desire to pray together happens often. But when we can make the time is a little more rare,” said Rev. Laura Everett of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. “We are really grateful to the cathedral for hosting. I think this is a moment for the nation and for the church to help us remember what binds us together, when so many forces seek to divide.”
The opportunity prompted the religious leaders and ministers to pose for a group photo on the altar.
“This was the first time I’ve seen so many religions all together. It was wonderful,” said Anna Cruz of West Springfield. “It was lively.”
The celebration continued after the service with a reception in the Bishop Marshall Center. Rev. Joyce Whetstone, a retired pastor of the United Methodist Church, came to pray for unity and to catch up with her friends in the religious community.
“When I saw the announcement about the prayer service I thought this was a good opportunity participate and be united,” she said. “We all believe in one God. And because we believe in one God, that is a source of unity for us. It helps with all the other stuff that gets in the way. When we focus on what we have in common, it makes it much easier for us to work together.”
The international week of prayer for Christian unity continues until Jan. 25.
A video version of this story will be featured on an upcoming edition of “Real to Reel,” which airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.