Praying with the pope in November
November’s monthly Intention from Pope Francis reflects his concern for the whole of the universal church and the whole of the world, especially the frontiers. Frequently he draws our attention to those frontiers, to the realities of the "rest of the world" geographically as well as economically. He has been particularly interested in Asia and in November he points us towards that vast continent, asking us to pray with him that “Christians in Asia, bearing witness to the Gospel in word and in deed, may promote dialogue, peace and mutual understanding, especially with those of other religions”. And during November Pope Francis makes his fourth Asian visit, travelling to Bangladesh and to Myanmar, becoming the first Pontiff ever to visit the latter country.
Pope Francis’ previous three visits to Asia have been to South Korea in 2014, and to both Sri Lanka and the Philippines in 2015. Francis appointed the first Bangladeshi Cardinal, Patrick D’Rozario. He has canonised the missionary St Joseph Vaz, who died in 1711, as the first Sri Lankan saint. The Pontiff has expressed his deep concern for the troubled Rohingya minority in Myanmar and will advocate for them, as well as visiting that country’s 700,000 Catholics. In the Philippines, he celebrated Mass with over 6 million people, a record for papal Masses; and he told Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle that “Asia is the future of the Church”. Like his Jesuit predecessors, especially the sixteenth-century missionary Matteo Ricci, the Argentine-born pope has a great desire for reconciliation with China, not least for freedom of religion and worship for Chinese Catholics.
The intention offered for our prayer this month could, of course, apply to any of us wherever we are in the world. The wording of this month’s intention gives us some concise guidance. We need to “bear witness to the Gospel”; as missionary disciples, we cannot do other. We are called to do so “in word and in deed” and here Pope Francis echoes a great phrase of St.Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercises, that love “shows itself more in deeds than in words”. And the outcome of that witness is precisely to promote peace, mutual understanding and dialogue - aims for the whole Church everywhere and, in Asia, especially with those of other religions.
These are all characteristics of the followers of Christ. The particular focus this month is on Asia. That continent’s population is larger than all the others added together. In many Asian countries Christians are a tiny minority, thought to be around 3%, and Catholics a small fraction of that minority. Only in the Philippines are they the vast majority. In each instance, the mission of every Christian remains the same, as expressed in November’s Intention.
Fr Ashley Evans SJ, an Irish Jesuit working in Cambodia, points out (in our Living Prayer booklet – details below), “Most Asian societies have a deep religiosity and strong moral traditions”, while some, such as North Korea and China, inflict violent repression. Elsewhere, (e.g. in Vietnam) despite persecution, religious and priestly vocations are flourishing. Fr Ashley points out that “In India, Indonesia and Malaysia, Christians face tensions from either Hindu or Muslim extremists” but he adds that, in all these and other Asian countries, “Christian communities, witnessing to mutual love and respect, promote a society of peace and tolerance”.
Our Holy Father has often emphasised that the church will grow, not through proselytization, still less by a divisive, conquering attitude, but by example, which creates attraction. This is a Roman pontiff who, hailing from the “ends of the earth”, as he said when he was elected, helps us to see beyond our own European borders. The Gospel of Christ is to be taken to those ends of the earth. It is the mission of St Peter and St Paul, as well as our mission. Pope Francis’ November Intention, then, just like his November journey to Asia, is to encourage evangelisation, less from the outside than by Christians living in those countries. They are to contribute to the common good of their countries and their continent making a positive contribution to social cohesion and dialogue, justice and peace. We’re invited to pray this Intention, close to the pope’s heart, this month and to take it into our own prayer and our own hearts.
Prayer Moment: Ask the Spirit of God to lead you to a place of interior stillness; try to find a few moments and an exterior place where you can be peaceful and prayerful, even if only for a few minutes, away from phones, desktops and potential distractions. Finding time and space like this is often difficult but not impossible. It is important to let God’s Spirit lead you there. Let the gaze of the Trinity fall on you and become conscious of God looking at you, now. Rest in God’s gaze for a few moments. Let God look at you. Then hear the words of this month’s Intention addressed to you and your community – the parish, the chaplaincy, or your friendship-circle or family. How does it touch you? What do you sense when you hear that personal invitation to “witness to the Gospel in word and in deed”? Is there an attraction in the idea of promoting dialogue, peace and mutual understanding? Do you want to do that?
How would it feel to you if this invitation came to you directly from Jesus Himself? Remember that it was his great command to us all, after his Resurrection, to take the Gospels to all nations. Rest with whatever feelings and emotions arise for you as you pray with these words and those thoughts. Talk to the Lord, spontaneously, in your heart, about whatever arises in your prayer at this moment.
Resources: Each of us, in our parish, family, or chaplaincy, is invited to pray with the pope each month and to offer ourselves, each day, for the service of the Gospel. The Pope’s Prayer Network offers several resources that can help. We offer our Daily Prayer Pathway that incorporates the traditional Morning Offering to the Heart of Christ, united with the Holy Father’s intention. We’ve our new App., Click-to-Pray that gives you a new set of brief prayers every day – together, we can make each day different! And we have our Living Prayer 2018 booklet, with a tear-off page for each month for your missal or diary, and our wall calendar. The 2018 editions carry lovely pictures of churches around the world dedicated to the Heart of Jesus. Limited special-price multipacks containing a calendar, a booklet and several prayer-cards available for delivery from early November at £3 plus P&P (£2, UK only). A good Christmas gift, perhaps? Send order to [email protected]