Pope Benedict XVI and the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), along with high-level representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC, will meet in Rome on Friday 25 January 2008, at the centennial of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
On Friday morning, the WCC general secretary will meet the Pope in a private audience along with members of the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the WCC.
The group, an inter-church think-tank advising the parent bodies on areas of common concern, is holding its annual plenary meeting in Rome from 21-26 January.
Pope Benedict XVI will preside at an ecumenical Vespers service at the Roman basilica of St Paul's Outside-the-Walls at 5.30pm that same day. During the service, Dr Kobia will bring greetings on behalf of the fellowship of 347 churches constituting the WCC - Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and indigenous.
The ecumenical service will conclude the 18-25 January period during which the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is traditionally observed in the northern hemisphere, while in the global south the days around Pentecost are favoured.
2008 marks the 100th anniversary of the week of prayer, which every year is celebrated by millions of Christians all over the world.
An ecumenical award will be presented to the two bodies which, for 40 years have jointly prepared and promoted the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC.
The Paul Wattson Christian Unity Award will be presented by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the PCPCU; Rev Dr John Gibaut, WCC director of Faith and Order; and his predecessor, Rev Dr Thomas F. Best. The ceremony on Thursday, 24 January, 4.30pm, at the Centro Pro Unione includes a lecture by Kasper and an ecumenical service at which Gibaut will preach.
The award takes its name from one of the initiators of the first Octave of Prayer for Church Unity held in January 1908 in Graymoor, New York, by the Society of the Atonement, a small religious community in the Franciscan tradition.
The first celebration of the octave 100 years ago is recalled as the foundational moment of the week of prayer in this year's centennial celebrations.