The Week of Prayer for CHRISTIAN UNITY is an international Christian ecumenical observance kept annually between 18 January and 25 January. It is an octave ,that is, an observance lasting eight days.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began in 1908 as the Octave of Christian Unity, and focused on prayer for church unity. The dates of the week were proposed by Father Paul Wattson, co-founder of the Graymoor Franciscan Friars. He conceived of the week beginning on the Feast of the Confession of Peter, the Protestant variant of the ancient Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, on 18 January, and concluding with the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul on 25 January.
Pope Pius X officially blessed the concept, and Benedict XV "encouraged its observance throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church."
A saint who gave her life to unity among Christians was BL. MARIA GABRIELLA SAGHEDDU who was born to a family of shepherds. As a child she was described as obstinate, critical, protesting, and rebellious – but loyal, and obedient; she would say no to a request – but act on it at once. At 18 she became gentler, her temper abated, she became involved in prayer and charity, and joined “Azione Cattolic,” a Catholic youth movement.
She was born in Sardinia in 1914. At 21 she entered the Trappestine monastery of Grottaferrata. When she was accepted, her attitude finally became “Now do what You will.” When the community’s leader explained a request for prayer and offering for the great cause of Christian Unity, Maria Gabriella felt compelled to offer her young life to the cause. Though she’d never been sick before, she suddenly developed tuberculosis. In a mere 15 months spent in prayer for Unity, it took her to her death in 1939.
Her body found incorrupt in 1957. Not only is she the patroness of ecumenism, but also against poverty and sickness.
Pope John Paul II proclaimed:
A model which I consider exemplary, the model of a Trappestine Sister, Blessed Maria Gabriella of Unity, whom I beatified on 25 January 1983. Sister Maria Gabriella, called by her vocation to be apart from the world, devoted her life to meditation and prayer centered on Chapter 17 of Saint John's Gospel and offered her life for Christian Unity. This is truly the cornerstone of all prayer: the total and unconditional offering of one’s life to the Father; through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The example of Sister Mara Gabriella is instructive; it helps us to understand that there are no special times, situations, or places of prayer for unity. Christ's prayer to the Father is offered as a model for everyone, always and everywhere."