Sources report that high-level Church officials are ‘extremely interested’ in having the petition added to the end of all celebrations of Sunday Mass.
VATICAN CITY — A concerted effort is under way in Rome and in dioceses around the world to have Pope Francis introduce a prayer for the poor, persecuted and oppressed at the end of every Sunday Mass.
The Register has learned that Church officials at the highest levels are “extremely interested” in having such a prayer inserted into all celebrations of Sunday Mass in accordance with the liturgical norms of the Missale Romanum 2002, the Missale Romanum 1962 and the liturgical customs and norms of the Eastern Churches.
The initiative is being taken not only because of the increasing persecution of Christians, but also in view of the many victims of abortion, human trafficking, poverty and oppression around the world.
It follows regular appeals from Pope Francis who has urged people to speak out against persecution of Christians, whom he has likened to the Church’s first martyrs. Cardinal Timothy Dolan also made a point of bringing it to people’s attention. In his final speech as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference last November, he called on his brother bishops to champion the cause of people persecuted for their faith and to fight to protect religious freedom.
“Our Christian brothers and sisters [are] experiencing lethal persecution on a scale that defies belief,” he told the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore.
The issue was also raised by cardinals at the extraordinary consistory in February ahead of the October synod on the family.
The prayer would be reminiscent of the former Leonine prayer which called for the conversion of Russia at the end of Mass. Like the Leonine prayer, established by Pope Leo XXIII and which was removed in 1965, the new petition would also include the Prayer to St. Michael, said to be one of Pope Francis’ favorite prayers.
“Those who are practicing Catholics should be conscious of these unacceptable assaults on the God-given freedom and dignity of human persons,” said one source helping to lead the campaign and speaking on condition of anonymity. “You cannot have a Pollyanna view of the world. If nothing else, the faithful can at least express spiritual solidarity with those suffering persecution.” He stressed the proposal has “enormous support.”
Aid to the Church in Need
A number of leading Catholic NGOs are said to have also given the proposal their strong backing. Aid to the Church in Need, which already has a prayer for persecuted Christians, believes such an addition to the Mass would be both appropriate and timely.
“Coming face to face with victims of persecution, as we at ACN do during trips to countries marked by violence and oppression, what we almost always find is that they ask time and again to pray for them,” John Pontifex, ACN UK’s head of press and information, told the Register. “What could be more important an opportunity, than praying for them at Mass?”
Pontifex noted that in countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, China, Sudan and Nigeria, many of the worst atrocities suffered by Christians have taken place while at Mass. “For that reason, it’s all the more fitting that we should remember them when we are at Mass ourselves,” he said.
Many Catholics in the West remain ignorant of increasing persecution against Christians. Lord Alton of Liverpool, a pro-life British peer who has fought for the rights of Christians for many years, told an audience April 11 that the West’s failure to understand the “religious dimension to these terrible atrocities” and the “imperative of harnessing thoughtful and moderate religious leaders from all traditions” leads to a failure to “end the persecution and the unspeakable violence.”
“We in the West, who enjoy so many freedoms and liberties, ignore the systematic violent ideology of an Islamist ‘Final Solution’ directed at Christian minorities,” he said in a speech to ACN’s Lenten vigil in London.
At the same event, British Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged that Christians “are now the most persecuted religion around the world” and said “we should stand up against persecution of Christians and other faith groups wherever and whenever we can.”
‘The Most Persecuted Religion’
Pontifex, who believes the prayer would “work best if it were short and clearly worded,” said it “would be great if it acknowledged that Christianity is the most persecuted religion.” He also would like it to show “that our compassion and God’s mercy are sorely needed at a time when in parts of the world, the Faith is at risk of being effectively flushed out by oppression, bigotry and other forms of intolerance.”
Some argue that drawing attention to persecution runs the risk of making it worse, and can fuel the fear of those who suffer from it most. Pontifex recognizes the risks, but believes these concerns “are in themselves nothing compared to the value of praying for persecuted Christians at Mass.” He also believes the prayer should not be confined to victims of religious oppression, but that it would be part of “coming together as a family of faith” because prayer is “the most natural expression of our compassion.”
Lela Gilbert, co-author of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians and adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, said she found it “hard to think of anything objectionable” about a prayer for the persecuted Church at the end of every Sunday Mass.
“Not only does it raise awareness and combat ignorance — which is plentiful in places where the media is disinterested in issues related to Christianity — but it also lifts our struggling brothers and sisters before the Lord and invokes His power and grace and comfort into their lives,” she said.
Adoration, Fasting and Almsgiving
A separate proposal being forwarded to the Holy Father also suggests adoration before the Blessed Sacrament on Fridays for the intentions of the poor, oppressed and persecuted. It further aims to introduce the other two spiritual weapons: fasting and almsgiving.
The Pope, campaigners propose, should bring back abstinence from meat on Fridays, as the bishops of England and Wales did a few years ago. They would also like the Holy Father to call the Church to a renewed practice of charity and almsgiving in the face of these many evils, all of which are of great concern to the Pope.
In this context, Pontifex said the words of ACN’s founder, Father Werenfried van Straaten, are highly appropriate: “They are being tested in faith,” Father van Straaten once said. “We are being tested in love.”
Following is a draft text of prayer being proposed for the poor, persecuted and oppressed, which would be followed by the Prayer to Saint Michael.
Almighty, ever-living God,
Your incarnate Son taught us that those who suffer for Your name are blessed.
Give love for their neighbor to all people of good will.
Inspire rulers and governments to work tirelessly for peace, justice and freedom for all.
Give us a spirit of solidarity and of service for those who suffer and who are poor, that we may bring to them that love Your Son made manifest by His suffering and death on the Cross.
Help us to recognize the face of the Evil One in our day and give us the strength and means to confront his many works.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
VATICAN CITY — Uncertainty quickly gave way to elation among the faithful that thronged St. Peter’s Square as the name of Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was announced from the loggia of the basilica.
Few of the 100,000-strong crowd who had gathered to welcome the successor to Benedict XVI were expecting the 76-year-old Argentine cardinal to become Pope in this election. Delight seemed initially to mix with some bewilderment as people took in the name. But quickly shouts of “Fran-ce-sco” from the Roman-heavy international crowd signaled the Italians had already taken him to their hearts, helped by the fact that he has Italian ancestry.
Many Vatican watchers were predicting a younger candidate than Cardinal Bergoglio, who is 76 and lives with one lung (although it’s a condition he has had for many years). It was reported the Argentine cardinal allegedly came in second in the conclave of 2005 that elevated Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy. But the history of the popes is rife with vital elder statesmen. Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council, was elected right before he turned 76 and Benedict XVI was elected at 78.
One of those surprised by the result was the Vatican’s Jesuit spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, who knows Pope Francis, though not well. “I’m in shock,” he told reporters shortly after the election. “I’m shocked that he [the new Pope] is from Latin America, and by his name.”
Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to be elected Pope in the order’s history, the first Pope from the Americas, and the first ever pontiff to take the name Francis. Members of the Society of Jesus are called to be servants of the servants of the Church, but until now not to be in such authoritative positions. For this reason, Father Lombardi said he found it “a little strange to have a Jesuit as Pope,” but he was clearly moved and delighted by the news.
He also thought the name appropriate — after St. Francis of Assisi. “The choice of the name Francis is very meaningful,” he said. “It is a name that has never been chosen before and evokes simplicity and an evangelical witness.”
Father Lombardi also noted it was “beautiful that he asked the people to pray for him and bowed to receive their blessing before blessing them.”
“This is an extraordinary election,” said Alejandro Bermudez, editor in chief of Latin America’s largest online Catholic news service ACI Prensa, and founder of the U.S.-based Catholic News Agency. “He is absolutely comfortable in his own skin. He’s incredibly minimalistic. He showed up without the mozetta (when he appeared at the loggia). He came out wearing plain white. And his choice of the name Francis is completely humble.”
Pope Francis telephoned Benedict XVI this evening and will visit him soon. The new Pope will celebrate the Angelus on Sunday, and will have an audience with journalists at the Vatican on Saturday morning. Tomorrow he will celebrate his first Mass with cardinals, and his inauguration Mass is expected to take place on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, in St. Peter’s.
A man of deep simplicity and humility, Pope Francis used to cook for himself, ride buses to work, and cared for a disabled priest in addition to all his other duties as archbishop of Buenos Aires. But he also made a point of never wanting to live in the Vatican and resisted invitations from John Paul II to work in the Curia, saying he would “die there” if he was sent to Rome.
“He’s incredibly learned and a serious theologian,” said Bermudez. “He’s known for being critical of the Curia.”
“If we thought Benedict was an introvert, we all need to be prepared for the real thing now,” said Roger McCaffrey, an American Catholic publisher who was familiar with the Holy Father when he served as a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. But as head of the Jesuit province in Argentina from 1973 to 1979, he acquired a reputation for being a tough administrator and for “cleaning house” — something the cardinal electors are likely to have noted in their deliberations in light of the need to reform the Roman Curia.
Speaking to the Register in St. Peter’s Square just after the white smoke appeared, Cardinal Jozef Tomko, one of the three cardinals to head the commission of enquiry into Vatileaks, made the point that it is Christ who ultimately guides the Church, but it was his “great hope” that the new Vicar of Christ will set about reforming the Curia.
Pro-Life, Pro-Family and Pro-Poor
Cardinal Bergoglio was known to be vibrantly pro-life, describing the pro-abortion movement as a “culture of death,” using the term coined by the man who made him a cardinal in 2001, Pope John Paul II. He opposed the free distribution of contraceptives in Argentina, staunchly defended the rights of the poor and chastised material inequality — he would frequently visit the slums in Buenos Aires — and spoke out strongly against same-sex “marriage.”
In 2010, he firmly opposed a bill giving same-sex couples the opportunity to marry and adopt children, saying it will “seriously damage the family” should it be approved. He made the statement in a letter addressed to each of the four monasteries in Argentina, asking the contemplatives to pray “fervently” that legislators be strengthened to do the right thing.
“At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children,” he wrote. “At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”
The new Pope will face many competing concerns when he takes up residence in the Apostolic Palace, not least increasing secularism. He will also have to confront the sexual abuse crisis, and the possibility that more cases will come to light in countries that have so far escaped notice.
Pope Francis will also have to face a host of other challenges, such as protecting and promoting religious freedom in the Middle East, India and China, not to mention conscience rights in the United States and Europe.
In his own Latin America, he will have to contend with the loss of Church members to Pentecostal sects. In Africa and Asia, where the Church is expanding rapidly, he will face the challenges of the effects of poverty, globalization and inculturation.
On the ecumenical front, the new Pope can be expected to continue work on improving relations with the Orthodox, Anglicans and Jews, while continuing Benedict XVI’s work in interreligious dialogue, particularly with Islam, all the while bolstered by prayers of hundreds of millions of the faithful.
Given all the challenges that lay ahead, it is perhaps fitting he chose the name of the saint whom Christ urged, “Rebuild my Church.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.