Dear friends in Christ,

You are invited to an online service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Thursday 18th January, 2024 at 7pm.  Bishop Tom Dowd, my colleague in ministry and friend of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, will be co-presiding with me. The link for the service is found in the poster. Your parish or deanery or region might be hosting or holding its own in person service and I encourage you to attend as you are able. It is not only our prayers that bring us closer to our siblings in Christ in other denominations but the fellowship we share with them over refreshments and conversation.

The theme for the 2024 Week of Prayer for Christian unity was prepared by an ecumenical team from Burkina Faso. The theme they chose comes from Luke 10:27, “You shall love the Lord your God…..and your neighbour as yourself.”  Burkina Faso is located in West Africa with Mali and Niger being their neighbours. The Sahel region, covering 174,000 kms square (The Diocese of Algoma is 112,600 kms square) and has 21 million inhabitants with sixty ethnicities. More than half the population is Muslim, 9% follow indigenous practices and Christianity forms 26% of the population. It is said that each of these religious groups are present in every region of the country and in every family.

Burkina Faso is experiencing security risks on a number of fronts causing a deterioration in its social cohesion. It is also subject to terrorist attacks, lawlessness, and human trafficking. It is said that since 2016, there are almost two million internally displaced people in the country. Schools and health care centres have been closed and a lot of the infrastructure has been destroyed.

Unfortunately, Christian churches have also been targeted by armed attacks. A number of clergy and lay leaders have been killed or kidnapped and, in some areas, Christians can no longer practice their faith. Where worship is still possible, security guards are necessary. Services are often shortened because of security concerns. How different from our situation where we are freely able to gather for worship anywhere and anytime. Burkina Faso and all other countries living in these difficult circumstances needs our prayers.

In spite of the horrendous state of unrest in Burkina Faso, there is an emerging solidarity between Christians, Muslims, and traditional religious groups. The government of Burkina Faso has called for prayers for peace, social cohesion, and reconciliation. Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are working together to assist displaced persons.  Awareness raising meetings have been organized to promote better understanding of the situation and of the value of working together to return to a lasting peace.

There is a beautiful traditional Mossi (a local indigenous group) proverb that says, “No matter the nature or duration of the fight, the moment of reconciliation will come.”

As the churches in Burkina Faso have been challenged and changed as they have worked together to prepare the materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian unity, my prayer is that we will be challenged and changed as we reflect on what it means to walk the path of love – love of God and love of neighbour.  Love, as the preparation material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity states, is the ‘DNA’ of Christian faith.  Let us come together to pray, work, and act for the love of God and neighbour by showing mercy and compassion to all in need, regardless of their religious, ethnic, or social identity. It is by learning to love one another regardless of our differences that Christians can become neighbours like the Samaritan in the chosen gospel.

I hope to see you online on the 18th January, but otherwise encourage you to attend an in person service in your area.

Your bishop in Christ,