Together with the commitment to evangelization ad gentes already in the sixteenth century in the various continents known at the time, the missionaries also posed the problem of the “scandal” of the division which affected the credibility of the proclamation among the recipients of the mission.
It was precisely the missionaries working in the various continents that were little evangelized who felt the need to overcome the clashes between Christian confessions and to relate with respect. This need was felt in the nineteenth century by many Reformed Communities which, together with the Catholic Church, felt the commitment to take the Gospel out of Europe and Latin America.
In 1846 the Evangelical Christians gave birth to the so-called “Evangelical Alliance” in London. 800 people from 52 Christian denominations took part in this initiative. The basic formula for expressing their belonging was Sacred Scripture interpreted individually.
This Covenant helped coordinate missionary work among the Reformed and prepare the minds of all Christians for the introduction of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity in the week following the first Sunday of the calendar year.
In 1844 some youth movements for Christian unity arose such as: the Christian Youth Union (Young Men’s Christian Junger Männer) and in 1854 the Christian Youth Union.
These associations saw the light in Great Britain and quickly spread to America and then to the rest of the world. The aim was to offer young people a Christian formation, to make them known through the study of the Bible and to work for charitable works, recognizing Jesus Christ as God and Savior.
The declaration of the year 1855 of the Christian Union of young people will be the starting point for the foundation of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Amsterdam with about 100 followers.
Another important initiative in favor of ecumenism was that of the Oxford Movement, born in the Anglican Church. It was built in 1833 by John Keble and John Henry Newman. The aim of this movement was to insert elements of the Catholic tradition into the Anglican Church to stem rationalist liberalism and state protectionism. The leaders of the Anglican Church condemned Newman’s views because they were too biased towards Catholicism.
The movement continued its talks which were also appreciated by many Catholics including J. Guitton.
On 9 October 1845, Newman was welcomed into the Catholic Church and was then made a cardinal in 1879.
In 1867 the Anglican Church started the Lambeth Conference; in 1875 there was the Reformed World Federation, in 1881 the Ecumenical Conference of Methodists; so then in 1905 the World Federation of Baptists was formed and in 1947 the Lutheran World Federation was founded in Lund.
In 1898 the Anglican Paolo Wattson (1863-1940) with Lurana White (1870-1935) founded in Graymoor in the United States the Society of the Atonement within the Episcopal Church with the aim of praying and working for the unity of Christians in within the Catholic Church. Ecumenism and the Franciscan spirit were the basis of the Society of Notre Dame de l’Atonement. In 1909, Paolo Wattson who for nine years (27 July 1900) had taken religious vows asked, through the pontifical delegate for the United States and Canada, Monsignor Daniele Falconio (of Italian origin), that the Society of the Atonement be accepted. in full communion with the Catholic Church. Pope Pius X not only praised the initiative of Paul Wattson, but welcomed him and the fraternity of the Atonement into the Catholic Church on October 27, 1909 as an institute of diocesan right of the Franciscan Regular Third Order.
In 1932 the Congregation was aggregated to the Order of Friars Minor.
On 30 August 1960 the Congregation was definitively approved.
Paolo Wattson, in addition to giving life to the Congregation of the Franciscans of the Atonement, was the creator and diffuser of the octave of prayer for Christian unity, which began as early as 1907 and then soon spread to parishes, institutes religious and in seminaries of the Catholic Church from January 18 (feast of the Chair of St. Peter) to January 25 (feast of the conversion of St. Paul).
The origin of the ecumenical week promoted by the Catholic Episcopal Conferences, which is experienced from 18 to 25 January in all Christian Churches, is due to the spread of the ecumenical idea of Fr. Wattson.
Precisely in this week of prayer for Christian unity in 1959 in the Basilica of St. Paul, John XXIII announces to the world the plan to call a universal Council which he will later call Vatican Council II.
* Episcopal Vicar for the Laity and Culture – Diocese of Trieste