‘Unusual kindness’ breaks down walls and prejudices

The Ecumenical Worship for the Week of Christian Unity Prayer was held at the St Paul Anglican Church, Thursday, Jan 23.

Feb 08, 2020

By Gwen Manickam
The Ecumenical Worship for the Week of Christian Unity Prayer was held at the St Paul Anglican Church, Thursday, Jan 23.

This international Christian ecumenical observance, organised by the World Council of Churches, is held annually between Jan 18 and Jan 25 in the Northern Hemisphere. These dates were proposed over 112 years ago to include the Feast of St Peter’s Chair and the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, to add a symbolic significance.

This year’s theme, They Showed Us Unusual Kindness (cf. Acts 28:2) was prepared by the Christian churches in Malta and Gozo (Christians Together in Malta). The history of Christianity in this small nation dates back to the times of the apostles. It is believed that St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, reached the shores of Malta in AD60. This narrative is described in the first two chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, thus the chosen text for Christians in Malta who celebrate the Feast of the Shipwreck of St Paul on Feb 10, in thanksgiving for the arrival of the faith on these islands and this year’s Week of Prayer.

At a two-hour gathering a day before the eve of the Lunar New Year, heads and representatives of various Christian denominations made up almost 200 faithful. From the Catho lic Church, Archbishop Julian Leow, Fr Gregory Chan, Fr Christopher Soosaipillai, several religious and parishioners were in attendance.

Host Rev Joshua Ong, in his welcome speech, reminded everyone present that they were there to pray for unity among Christians and reconciliation in the world. He said, “Division among Christians has existed for many centuries. This causes great pain and is contrary to God’s will. Together with Christians all over the world, we offer prayers as we seek to overcome separations.”

St Paul’s choir melodiously sung the Invocation of the Holy Spirit before theCouncil of Churches Malaysia general secretary, Rev Dr Hermen Shastri led the Prayers for Pardon and Reconciliation, followed by the Presbyterian Church in Malaysia general secretary, Elder Mok Cheh Liang, reciting the day’s readings from Acts chapter 27:18 to 28:10.

The Psalms were sung by Church of the Assumption parish priest Fr Chan, accompanied by seminarian Bro Fabian Anand on the guitar.

The Myanmar Refugee Choir mesmerised the congregation with their soulful rendition of Non Nobis Domine, Hallelujah chorus, and Amen from Handel’s Messiah before Christ Methodist Church Pastor Rev Tan Chew Mae shared the Gospel of Mark (chapter 16:14-20).

Hospitality, central practice of Christian life
Unity Prayer on January 23, 2020. YouthSocial Communication (1996) (1986) Formation Poor (1976) (1976) (1976) Family (1996)BEC Unity (1976) DIALOGUE (1976) INTEGRAL EVANGELISATION Archbishop Julian Leow shared the day’s reflection emphasising how many migrants in today’s world suffer a similar fate at sea as the 276 passengers with St Paul, who were at the mercy of the elements of nature, and how they probably felt hopeless.

“On the land, different kinds of storms also rage. Since there are things all around us that could be feared, kindness and hospitality are much-needed fruits of Christian witness today. The contemporary Christians of Malta, in choosing this theme, remind us it was through unusual kindness that a divided people were drawn closer together, and the Gospel was furthered,” he said.

Hospitality was considered a central practice of the Christian life and a much-needed virtue in the search for Christian unity, as it calls for a greater generosity to those in need. “It’s no surprise, given that Christians themselves were outsiders in the Roman Empire that deemed Christianity dangerous, at worst, and misguided, at best. As part of an illegal and widely-considered subversive sub-culture, Christians practised hospitality to the stranger.

“Further, as Christianity spread across the multicultural Roman Empire, it took root in diverse cultural and ethnic contexts, creating a multi-cultural religion. Christians must learn to deal with ‘the other’ across lines of language, culture and ethnicity,” he said.

Archbishop Leow said the basic themes of the gospel: love, joy, peace, kindness, forgiveness, and hope should not be questioned. “For people claiming the faith of Christ, showing love and compassion to immigrants, no matter their status, is a requirement of following Jesus — there is no alternative.” “

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.’ (Lev 19:33-34). These are the strong words of a God who loves everyone and  desperately wants us to understand that everyone is made in God’s divine image. The way we treat immigrants and refugees is the way we treat Jesus himself. There may be political, economic, and personal reasons for an unwillingness to love immigrants, but according to Jesus, there are no spiritual ones.”

‘Strangers’, ‘sojourners’ and ‘foreigners’ in our midst today include the displaced persons (those who have been forced to leave their homes (community) due to violent conflict, war, or a natural disaster), refugees (people who have been forced to leave their nation due to violent conflict or war), migrants (those who have chosen to leave their home country, mainly to escape poverty), asylum seekers (individuals who ask to live in another country to escape severe religious or political persecution or another violation of their human rights and stateless persons (those who are not a citizen under the laws of any country), he explained.

“Christianity is not merely spirituality, but a faith rooted in events in human history: the redemption of humanity and the whole of creation. The unity for which we pray therefore serves to make Christ known in the world. As we approach one another seeking unity, we recognise that we sometimes carry baggage from history, tradition and cultural expectation which can weigh us down and threaten to overwhelm us. There is the danger that, in the face of that experience, we might lose sight of the hope which first called us and so give up reaching for the light which Christ offers us.”

Archbishop Leow said, when unusual kindness is shown, it breaks down walls and prejudices. “It allows us to listen and befriend the other. This gesture restores and strengthens relationships and will result in us expressing unusual kindness in return.”

The congregation prayed and petitioned for Reconciliation, Enlightenment, Hope, Trust, Strength, Hospitality, Conversion and Generosity before a closing blessing by Archbishop Leow, followed by a light supper and fellowship.

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