Thursday, March 3, 2011

St. Katherine Drexel - Holy Father's Intentions for March 2011 & the Apostleship of Prayer - Shahbaz Bhatti, R.I.P.

St. Katharine Drexel (1858-1955) was once a Philadelphia debutante and woman of high society. Her father and stepmother taught Katharine and her siblings by word and example that the wealth they had was a simple loan and was meant to be shared with others.

Saint Katharine shared her wealth with the poor and also took an avid interest in the spiritual well-being of African and Native Americans. She founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Native and African Americans, and, until her death in 1955, she dedicated her life and a fortune of $20 million to this cause.

In addition to this work, St. Katharine also participated in the opening of the first mission school for Native Americans and founded Xavier University in New Orleans. Due to her life-long dedication to her faith and selfless service to the less fortunate, she was canonized a saint.

Her memorial is kept today in the United States.

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Ever-loving God, who called St. Katherine Drexel to teach the message of the Gospel and to bring the life of the Eucharist to the African-American and Native American peoples, by her prayers and example, enable us to work for justice among the poor and oppressed, and keep us undivided in love in the Eucharistic community of your Church. Through our Lord.

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Pope's prayers: Could Internet increase spread of intentions?

If the pope used Twitter or Facebook to rally people together to pray for one intention, how many millions of prayers could be raised to heaven within minutes?

In some countries, Facebook and the Internet already are being used by the Apostleship of Prayer to build community and distribute the pope's monthly prayer intentions. But in most places in the world, when the pope makes a special public appeal for prayers, people hear about it only through the Catholic media.

For 167 years, members of the Apostleship of Prayer have begun each day offering their lives to God and praying for the needs of the universal church and the intentions of the pope.

The offering and the prayers are the basic membership requirements, and in most places the apostleship has "no registration, no groups, no fees, no special meetings," so no one really knows how many people belong.

Jesuit Father Claudio Barriga, who oversees the organization from the Jesuit headquarters near the Vatican, said he estimates there are about 50 million people fulfilling the membership requirements in the apostleship and its youth wing, the Eucharistic Youth Movement.

The Jesuit said he was in Vietnam in January and discovered that there are Apostleship of Prayer groups in every diocese with an estimated 1 million involved.

A government-approved bishop in mainland China reported that there is a group of people who makes the offering and prays for the pope's intentions each day in his cathedral, Father Barriga said.

In the United States, he said, "it's mainly a digital community" thriving through the use of the website -- which includes links to a daily audiovisual meditation posted on YouTube -- and through both national and parish-based Facebook pages.

But it's also big in remote areas of Angola where many people have never even seen a computer and in Madagascar where about 250,000 young people belong to the Eucharistic Youth Movement, he said.

Father Barriga knows that for many people, the Apostleship of Prayer is seen as a way for the elderly to exercise their piety; he said it wasn't that long ago that he thought so, too.

The Jesuit does not seem particularly bothered about not having a membership list or even just a head count; he said he wants to help people pray, and if just getting the list of the pope's prayer intentions is enough, that's good.

But for many people, he said, it could be helpful to have contact with others making the same effort and to receive guidance from someone who has been making the effort even longer.

Father Barriga said the prayer life promoted by the apostleship is "simple, but not simplistic," and schoolchildren in the poorest village and business leaders in the biggest cities all can find the 10 or 15 minutes a day it takes to fulfill the apostleship's requirements.

Of course, he said, there's no guarantee that belonging won't change a person.

"It's a Jesus program, a way to live with Jesus' heart," he said.

"You have at least 50 million people praying each day for a month for something like those who do not have access to clean water -- that creates awareness" and could lead to enough action that less water would be wasted and less would be polluted, he said.

"If what you are praying for doesn't change you, then you aren't praying correctly," Father Barriga said.

But the distribution of the monthly intentions is not a publicity campaign for living more responsibly, he said. They really are prayers.

"We pray to God because God is the one who moves human hearts," the Jesuit said.

One reason the Jesuits are looking to "re-create" the apostleship is to strengthen the Jesuits' commitment to it -- whether to leading groups personally or virtually over the Internet, Father Barriga said.

Another reform at which the Jesuits are looking is helping to keep members focused on the big, important "permanent needs" of the church and the world as reflected in the monthly prayer intentions, while also being able to count on millions of people's prayers when special needs or disasters arise, Father Barriga said.

The Apostleship of Prayer is responsible for the annual distribution of "the pope's prayer intentions" for each month.

Pope Benedict XVI's general intention for March, which includes St. Patrick's Day, St. Joseph's Solemnity and the Solemnity of the Annunciation, is for Latin American Nations, "That the nations of Latin America may walk in fidelity to the Gospel and progress in justice and peace".

His missionary intention for the month is for Persecuted Christians, “That the Holy Spirit may give light and strength to those in many regions of the world who are persecuted and discriminated against because of the Gospel”

The apostleship and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples help the pope draw up a year's list of monthly intentions, which are published a full year in advance. The lists for 2012 were published by the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Jan. 28.

Obviously, Father Barriga said, when the prayers are chosen so far in advance, it's hard to make them very specific and timely.

But now that so many people have access to a computer, or at least to the radio, the Jesuit said it may be time to look for more instant ways to raise a call to prayer.

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Shahbaz Bhatti

(September 9, 1968-March 2, 2011)

A few weeks ago the government had a reception in Ottawa for Shahbaz Bhatti (at the right in the photo)in, the Pakistanis minister for minorities. I was invited to attend, and was moved, in speaking with Mr. Bhatti, by his commitment to helping Christians and members of other religious minorities live as respected citizens.

Yesterday, he was assassinated in Islamabad.

Let us pray for the repose of his soul and the consolation of his family.

Please pray, too, for the Christians of that afflicted land.

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