By: David Stewart SJ
Pope Francis constantly invites us to think about specific concerns and challenges that face all of humanity and the Christian's mission in the world. We are not only to think about these issues but to take them into our prayer then, from there, to try to be more open to whatever action we might be drawn towards, in the power of the Good Spirit. His Prayer Network, which anyone can join, is the principle means by which the Holy Father shares these prayer-requests with the rest of us, indeed with all people of good will.
In 2018, the Network will share, each month, not only these prayer requests but also suggest some challenges connected with them.
Following his highly successful apostolic journey to Myanmar and Bangladesh late last year, it's apposite that this month's intention concerns Asia. It embraces a wider, larger question at the same time, that very basic concern about religious freedom. Pope Francis asks, this month, that we pray about Religious Minorities in Asia: "That Christians, and other religious minorities in Asian countries, may be able to practice their faith in full freedom". The focus is on the Asian continent while the question of religious freedom arises in so many other places too, often accompanied by hatred and bigotry, violence and bloodshed. There are some in our world who use religion, somehow, as an excuse to treat others terribly; but theirs is no valid religion, despite their frequent claims to be its only authoritative followers.
Our "Living Prayer 2018" booklet (some copies still in stock - see below) contains some very helpful thoughts on this matter from a Jesuit who comes from that continent. Fr Mark tells us that, in some Asian states, some political and economic liberalisation has eased Christians' situation while in other countries religious freedom has diminished. He asks, in his reflection, hat we recognise and celebrate diversity, seeing it as "a sign of God's abundant blessing" that should lead to "mutual respect and sincere dialogue" rather than "hostility and intolerance".
Jesuit Father Frédéric Fornos, International Director of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network, told us from our Rome office that "just a few weeks ago, the Pope visited Asia-specifically, Myanmar and Bangladesh-and while there, he emphasised how important it was that different religious creeds be able to live in peace and harmony." Fr.Fornos added, "Asia is a very important continent for the proclamation of the Gospel: a continent in which people of widely diverse cultures and beliefs live together, including many religious minorities. I think that's why Francis decided to dedicate this month to pray for the religious freedom of all."
Just as in 2016 and 2017, Pope Francis begins 2018 sharing his monthly intentions through The Pope Video, prepared and distributed by the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network. This month, he notes that "in the vastly diversified cultural world of Asia, the Church faces multiple challenges. Her task is made more difficult by the fact of her being a minority. These challenges are shared with other minority religious traditions, with whom we share a desire for wisdom, truth and holiness."
CHALLENGES: In 2018, the Pope's Prayer Network in Britain will be presenting, each month, a trio of challenges for the month. This is our New Year's Resolution! But it also revives a venerable custom of many years, in the Apostleship of Prayer, which this Network continues under its new name. We've got three challenges to present to you this month:
• This month, could I try to learn more about religious minorities in Asia, to get to know them better, as well as their situation of religious freedom? This can help me to pray for this prayer intention of the Pope.
• In the major social, cultural and political issues of today, could I try to inform myself about the values that the Church proposes in these matters? Do I affirm my faith with coherence and truth, even at the risk of being misunderstood and criticised? Do I let myself be conditioned by the cultural climate that surrounds me, at family, work, or in my relationships, in the free expression of my faith? Do I speak of Jesus, of the Church, without fear or shame?
• What proposals or initiatives for prayer and reflection can be made in our community to help others understand how our society can limit our freedom to say and act as Christians?
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. 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. 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 examples of denial of religious freedom or intolerance come to mind? Take careful note of what feelings arise in your heart as you do so; do not judge or analyse them, but ask the Good Spirit to show you, inwardly, the deeper meaning and call to you they present.
Daily prayer of offering (also available on our Click-to-Pray website, and downloadable App, www.clicktopray.org) :
Father of goodness, in union with the Holy Father and his Worldwide Prayer Network,I pray for all our brothers and sisters in Asia,those who follow your son Jesus and also those who, through other religions, seek you from a sincere heart.I pray in particular for all those who experience difficulties in living their faith with freedom,or who feel oppressed and excluded because they believe in You.May your Holy Spirit touch the hearts of all leaders, that they may defend and promote religious freedom throughout the world.Our Father...
The Pope's Prayer Network offers 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 (www.clicktopray.org), that gives you a new set of brief prayers every day - together, we can make each day different! And we offer 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. A few special-price multipacks containing a calendar, a booklet and several prayer-cards are available for delivery now at £3 plus P&P (£2, UK only). Send order to firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 8442 5232.