By Nadia Maria Smith

CS&T Staff Writer

The Old Philadelphia Christian Congregations, led by Old St. Joseph Parish, will have its fifth annual ecumenical prayer service to commemorate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Wednesday, Jan. 21. Jesuit Father Daniel Ruff, pastor of Old St. Joseph, will lead the gathering in prayer.

The service will be held at the Episcopal Old St. Peter’s Church at 3rd and Pine Streets at 7:30 p.m., bringing together members of a number of historic Christian churches, including St. Augustine, Old St. Mary’s and Holy Trinity Catholic Parishes.

Old St. Joseph initiated the first service in 2005 when the Jesuits invited the Rev. Cornelius Eaddy, pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, to preach and his choir led the singing. But the history of the various Christian churches working and praying together in old Philadelphia goes back to the colonial days as part of William Penn’s Holy Experiment.

Philadelphia is a city that not only tolerated but welcomed religious spanersity from its beginning – bringing together Quakers, Jews, Catholics and Protestants.

During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress attended services at Old St. Mary’s on four occasions to solemnize observance during the war. Non-Catholics George Washington and John Adams worshipped there in 1774, and Washington returned to Old St. Mary’s when he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

The Augustinian Order established its first church in the U.S., Philadelphia’s St. Augustine, with monetary donations by President George Washington, Commodore John Barry and merchant Stephen Girard.

Together, Quakers and Catholic clergy from Old St. Joseph ministered to hundreds of Acadian refugees expelled from Nova Scotia by the French in 1755. Then, when anti-Catholic rioters threatened Old St. Joseph during the French and Indian Wars, a group of Quakers intervened and the chapel was spared.

That spirit of solidarity is epitomized by the annual week of prayer for Christian unity. The impetus for the week came from the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement in Graymoor, N.Y., in 1908 “in response to Jesus Himself whose fervent prayer was that we may all be one, just as He and the Father are One; a prayer and even a mandate issued again by the Second Vatican Council,” said Jesuit Father Mike Hricko, Old St. Joseph’s pastoral liason for ecumenical and interfaith activities.

“Through its ecumenical and interfaith work, and in conjunction with principles four and eight of its pastoral plan, Old St. Joseph’s desires to sustain this small but important effort towards realizing that prayer,” Father Hricko said.

“Fraternity among the various Christian Congregations deepens our respect and care for one another. Prayer among us and song together is bonding and engenders trust and hope that surely must be pleasing to the Lord. That is why this annual event is so important to us as Catholics,” he added.

Pope Benedict XVI has asked the Church as a whole to pray especially for his mission intention “that the different Christian confessions, aware of the need for a new evangelization in this period of profound transformations, may be committed to announcing the Good News and moving towards the full unity of all Christians in order to offer a more credible testimony of the Gospel.”

The ecumenical prayer service at Old St. Peter’s may be the perfect place to do it. All are welcome.

For more information, contact Father Michael Hricko at or 215-923-1733.