Praying with the Pope in August
David Stewart SJ remembers the celebrations for the 175th anniversary of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network and reflects on the prayer intention for this month of August.
On the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, several thousand delegates, National & Regional Directors and friends from every continent gathered at St Peters’ in Vatican City to begin the celebration of the 175th anniversary with a special Papal Audience. In St Paul VI Audience Hall, Fr Fornos SJ began the morning programme, which showcased the international scope and the diversity of our Network. We were giving thanks for past, present and future, not least the re-creation of the Prayer Network, a 10-year renewal process that has just been completed.
Then the Holy Father joined us, smiling broadly as he made his way to the stage. He stood to make his address. What the Pope said to us, about the Network’s “precious activity”, had a big impact on everyone but, possibly, how he said it made even more of a good and lasting impression on us all. He made a short speech then responded to greetings from representatives from each continent, but then something quite wonderful happened.
It was as if he stopped being Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, or at least stepped out of that role. Francis became the pastor, a prayer-guide, a retreat-leader. It was as if the international meeting had just become a parish prayer-group or a meditation session on an Ignatian retreat. Francis simply and gently asked us to become quiet, to slow down and to concentrate, as St Ignatius would always have us do, on the fact that we were being gazed upon by the Trinity, that God was looking at us there and then, in love and longing. He gave us a short guided meditation. Then he kept a long moment of silence and invited us all into that silence. One of the pilgrims who came with us, from Britain and Ireland, put it best in an email. She said, “I feel hugely privileged to have had the experience of praying in silence with Pope Francis. It was a deeply meaningful and moving experience. I was able to pray for my children, my brothers and sisters, and my loved dead, in a unique way. The atmosphere was thick with prayer. I have never experienced anything like it.”
Later in the evening, Jesuit Superior-General Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, presiding at a celebration Mass in St John Lateran Basilica, also affirmed the work of the Network, declaring that the Society of Jesus would continue to affirm and support its mission. It is, of course, a pontifical service, a work of the whole church, entrusted by the Holy See to the Jesuits and supported by the Jesuit Provinces of the 97 countries in which it is active.
August brings another Intention to our attention as, through his prayer network, the Pope continues to invite us to pray for the challenges that face humanity and the church’s mission. This month we are joining him in praying for families as “schools for human growth”. We pray that “families, through their life of prayer and love, become ever more clearly ‘schools of true human growth’.”
In this month’s video, the popular online initiative in which Pope Francis personally presents his Intention for the month, the Holy Father comments: “What kind of world do we want to leave for the future? Let us leave a world with families. Let us care for our families, because they are true schools for the future, spaces of freedom, and centres of humanity. And let us reserve a special place in our families for individual and communal prayer”.
Our Click-to-Pray app and online initiative also provides a way of praying with the Pope, both for his monthly Intention and each new day. The First Friday of each month is a worldwide Day of Prayer for the Pope’s Intention. On the App, we suggested this prayer for August’s first Friday:
On this first Friday of the month, I thank the Lord for the opportunity of being united with the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network. Thank you for the life of my family members and the good that each one brings to me. Throughout the day, I will try to thank each person I live with and express to them a quality they possess that helps me to be a better person. I give my day into the hands of Mary, for the intention of Pope Francis for this month.
Everyone of good will, catholic or not, is invited to be part of this worldwide community of prayer, the Pope’s own network and the largest prayer-group in the Church. There’s nothing to join and nothing to pay! Simply make your Morning Offering prayer (a new version appears each day on Click-to-Pray), uniting your prayer to the Pope’s Intention and the prayers of many thousands around the world, and you are part of it. For 175 years, people have united their hearts to the Heart of Christ, making themselves ready for Christ’s mission. Together, let us make each day different!