"The heart of the Church's mission is prayer" - praying with the Pope in March
This reflection is by Fr David Stewart SJ, National Director of the Pope's Global Prayer Network
March’s Intention of the Holy Father, offered to the whole church and all people of good will through his own worldwide prayer-group, coincides with the 40th anniversary this month of the assassination of Saint Oscar Romero. It comes also as we suffer with the people of China, devastated by the outbreak of the Corona virus; innocent lives shattered, so many lives lost. The Pope asks us to pray this month “that the Church in China may persevere in its faithfulness to the Gospel and to grow in unity”. That unity and faithfulness extends to us as we practice solidarity, an essential component of Catholic Social Teaching, with those who suffer, anywhere. The people of God and, indeed, the great mass of the populace in El Salvador, 40 years ago, suffered under state oppression; in our time, the faithful in China suffer similarly and now have the added horror of this awful epidemic.
PRAYER – THE HEART OF OUR MISSION
Pope Francis reminded us all that “the heart of the church’s mission is prayer”; when we pray with the Holy Father, we are opening our own hearts to mission, to discipleship, not merely making a resolution to do this or that good action. It goes so much deeper than that; it goes to the heart and comes from the heart. Pray from your heart; placed your heart beside Christ’s heart. St.Oscar Romero once preached: “people shine brightest when they are the Lord’s light, when they make their work a way of serving humanity, when they are lamps that are consumed as they give out light.” He was speaking of people who were putting prayer at the heart of their mission.
The Salvadorian people found their champion in Oscar, and his Jesuit companion and mentor Rutilio Grande SJ, each man martyred for refusing to compromise with state oppression. The Holy Father, this month, invites each of us to no less important a mission, in or own way and in our own situation, of praying in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in China. Few of us will be asked to give our blood, indeed our lives, in solidarity with them but by opening our hearts to their situation, we can unleash the power of prayer that motivates us towards discipleship, that forms our hearts.
CATHOLICS IN CHINA
Most experts estimate China’s Catholics to number around 12 million. Some are members of the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, over which the Popes have no authority, and belong to an underground church loyal to the Holy See. It is the latter group that have experienced persecution. Underground priests and parishioners are frequently detained and harassed. Part of the Intention this month is that the Chinese church may “grow in unity”; Jesus of course, with a sigh that came from the depths of his own heart, had prayed to the Father “that they may all be one”. Francis, who constantly promotes dialogue, recently reached an agreement with the Chinese State to recognise state-appointed bishops. This was a controversial decision, harshly criticised in some quarters. Rome accepted that it was a risky strategy but better than inaction as to wait for full religious freedom in China would be a fool’s errand. Throughout the history of human civilisation, faith, or religions, and politics has always interacted, the relationship constantly shifting as world orders changed. The Holy Father’s view was and is that reconciliation and mercy, “the violence of love” in Oscar Romero’s phrase, ought always to be our guiding principle and this conviction underlies his approach to the difficult issue of Catholic Christians in China.
ST.OSCAR AND RUTILIO GRANDE SJ
Turning again to St.Oscar Romero, perhaps our prayer, as requested by the Holy Father, for Christians on the other side of the world from Romero’s homeland might include a prayer to this great saint for his intercession for these suffering people? We might think, too, of the recently-announced Beatification of Oscar’s trusted companion and mentor, Fr.Rutilio Grande SJ. This Jesuit priest, his younger compatriot, became for Oscar an example and a sure guideline of what his own mission and destiny would be. Rutilio had worked tirelessly, and with some damage to his own health, for the poor of that country, oppressed and maltreated by the tiny handful of oligarchs who owned most of the country’s wealth and industry. Rutilio became too much of a threat to these interests. He was assassinated, along with two of his parishioners; their bullet-ridden corpses were left by the roadside to deter others. St.Oscar, on seeing his murdered friends’ corpses lying there, knew that this would be his mission too, and his fate. From that moment onward this shy Archbishop became a true leader of all of his people, not just the rich who had thought they could control him. Three years later, they had him killed, gunned down by a single rifle-shot as he celebrated the Eucharist in the cancer hospital where he resided. He had followed his friend and mentor to martyrdom. Now that friend is on the cusp of beatification himself. Let us pray with and to him, and to St.Oscar, for all who are oppressed anywhere in our troubled world; and let us remember all those in China affected and bereaved by the virus epidemic.
THREE PROPOSALS FOR THIS MONTH, FOR YOUR OWN MISSION
1 – Find out about the discussions that Pope Francis has been having with the Chinee government about the place of Catholic Christians in that country. Be careful to assess both sides of the issue and remember to pray for these brothers and sisters in Christ.
2 – Look for more information about the heroic life of Rutilio Grande SJ and pray in gratitude that the good news about his beatification has come. Ask a Jesuit to tell you more about Rutilio.
3 – try to attend Mass on the 24th of this month, which is now St.Oscar’s feast day, when Mass in his honour can be celebrated officially. Ask your pastor if the Mass of his feast could be celebrated that day and pray for his intercession for all who suffer under state oppression, especially for their faith.
The Morning Offering is part of the Daily Prayer Pathway, practised by countless Christians in the PWPN, the Pope’s personal prayer group and the largest in the Church. You can then say a brief prayer around noon and pray an Ignatian-style review of the day in the evening. Please ask for our Daily Prayer Pathway and Review of the Day cards; we’ll post them to you free of charge. Check also our popular Click-to-Pray App and website, with its new set of prayers each day, direct to your phone or Tablet.
ORDER RESOURCES and ONLINE
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2: Sacred Heart Messenger: a modern message in a much-loved tradition. Email: [email protected] or phone 00353 1 676 7491.
3: NEW! Click-to-Pray eRosary: to order, see www.clicktoprayerosary.org
4: All our websites and apps: search clicktopray.org, thepopevideo.org and popesglobalprayer.net