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WEST ROXBURY -- Close to 1,000 people from across the greater Boston area came together Jan. 21 at Holy Name Church in West Roxbury for what organizers are calling the largest ecumenical gathering ever to take place in Boston.
Hosted by the Archdiocese of Boston, organized by UniteBoston, and co-sponsored by 22 churches and institutions, the gathering saw leaders and clergy from numerous Christian denominations unite for a blessing service at Holy Name Church.
It also served as the focal event for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Jan. 18-25, during which time a prayer service was held at a different church every night.
Yet, while the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is not a new concept in the city of Boston, the Jan. 21 service was the first of its kind, both in terms of attendance, and the number of denominations that were represented.
At the service, "the Body of Christ in Boston, got a glimpse of itself for the first time in its entirety," said Vito Nicastro, associate director of the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Interreligious and Ecumenical Affairs and organizer of the event, to The Pilot Jan. 24.
Holy Name Church, with a capacity of around 900, was nearly full as the service began.
Among those who attended or took part in the service include Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley and Bishop Arthur Kennedy of the Archdiocese of Boston; Bishop David of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of New York and New England; Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston; Rev. Dr. Roberto Miranda of the Hispanic Pentecostal Congregation Lion of Judah; Rev. Dr. Bryan Wilkerson of Grace Chapel; Rev. Dr. David Wright and Pastor Arlene Hall of the Black Ministerial Alliance; Pastor Barry Kang of Symphony Church; Kelly Steinhaus of UniteBoston; and Scott Brill of The Institute for Christian Unity.
Musicians of different denominations also played or sang during the service: the Lion of Judah worship team, the St. Romanos the Melodist Byzantine Choir of Hellenic College-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Thomas Manguem of Holy Name Parish, the Catholic Church's Neocatechumenal Way, Father Demetrios Costarakis of the Greek Orthodox St. Nicholas Church, and the Trinity Copley Taize community.
During the course of the service, the faithful prayed for the persecuted Church, to overcome divisions, and for Christian unity.
Cardinal O'Malley delivered the homily, and in it he thanked all the representatives of the faith communities who came together.
"We are all one in the firm conviction of the apostles, who in Acts declared before the enemies of the church there is no other name under heaven by which we are saved, only the Holy Name of Jesus," he said.
"Our love for our savior and our desire to raise our mission is what motivates us to be here today," he continued.
He added that the "divisions of our Christians is an impediment to announcing the Gospel," as that disunity prevents people from "accepting the good news we preach today."
Yet, now "we come together, humbly and contrite, to ask God to forgive us for our sins that have contributed to our disunity, and we beg for the grace to be able to heal divisions, and once again joyfully present the body of Christ to the world," said Cardinal O'Malley.
"If we want the world to believe that the Father has sent Jesus as our Messiah... let us begin working for the unity Jesus prayed for," he concluded.
Following the service, attendees were invited to participate in a mission and volunteering fair and reception in the Holy Name Parish's Finn Hall. The parish sponsored a lunch prior to the service, as well as 10 workshops on different aspects of Christian Unity, taught by notable members of different Christian denominations.
Maria Makredes, a "strong Greek Orthodox," said that she has always "felt the importance of ecumenism.
She explained that she had attended Catholic schools as a child, and made "strong friendships, relationships, with Catholic Christians."
"They've just given me so much support in my faith," she said, before noting that she enjoyed the prayer service.
"I just love the coming together of people of different Christian denominations, and I feel so excited about progress in ecumenism. I feel like we're getting closer."
Father David Michael, associate director for Interreligious Relations for the archdiocese's Office of Ecumenical Interreligious Affairs, said the prayer service is a "quantitative leap in some direction that I've never seen before."
He praised the efforts of organizers, especially Nicastro, adding that "this is a momentum that we can't let go of."