By Brian Harper
When the pope kneels to pray, who does he ask God to bless?
For more than 170 years, the Apostleship of Prayer has answered that question, inviting people of faith across the globe to pray along with the bishop of Rome. Recently renamed The Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network – Apostleship of Prayer, this global ministry has been a trailblazer in using the latest technology to carry out its mission.
In January 2016, the Vatican began producing videos featuring Pope Francis’ monthly prayer intentions. Artfully produced by La Machi, an Italian communications agency, “The Pope Video” beautifully depicts each month’s intention — such as interreligious dialogue, care for creation, journalists, and an end to child soldiers — with the pope narrating and calling on all people of good will to join him in prayer.
Since 2003, Fr. James Kubicki, SJ, has served as US director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network – Apostleship of Prayer. Soon, a new US director will be named to succeed Fr. Kubicki, who will become the next president of St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud Reservation in western South Dakota this summer.
The following is an edited conversation with Fr. Kubicki.
Could you give an overview of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network – Apostleship of Prayer’s history?
Back in 1844 in a seminary in France, Jesuit scholastics would read letters from Jesuit missionaries in India to be inspired in their studies. The missionaries talked about all the wonderful work they were doing — they were preaching the Gospel, people were asking to be baptized, and the Church was growing by leaps and bounds. This led to some frustration. The scholastics began thinking, ‘What am I doing here in this seminary, studying philosophy, wasting my time, when I could be out there helping in the work of the Church?’
So, their spiritual director got them all together and challenged them. He said, “Any work of the Church is a spiritual fruit, and that needs to be watered by spiritual means. You have those means at your disposal right now. Don’t wait to be an apostle. Be an apostle of prayer. Make an offering of your whole day with the prayers you’re going to pray, the Mass you participate in, your homework, your papers, the frustrations you have living with 60 other guys in a community. Make an offering of that all for the spread of the Gospel.” The idea caught on, because it gave them a sense of purpose and meaning at a time when they felt like they were just spinning their wheels.
By the 1860s, one of those Jesuit students wrote a book called The Apostleship of Prayer in League with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, combining this spirituality of daily offering with devotion to the heart of Jesus. As we draw closer to the heart of Jesus, we share his desires and concerns for humanity, and that energizes us then to pray and work for the salvation of souls.
By the 1880s, the pope saw a great resource for himself in the Apostleship of Prayer and began approving monthly prayer intentions that would go throughout the world so millions of people could pray together for one particular intention every month. In 1929, a second prayer intention was added that specifically had to do with missionary work. This year, Pope Francis went back to one monthly prayer intention, and because of the speed of communications today, the decision was made to have a monthly urgent prayer intention that could be disseminated throughout the world. It may be praying for people that have been affected by a natural disaster, a particular conflict, or something else that occurs to the pope at the beginning of the month.
There is also a children’s branch that began as the Eucharistic Crusade around the time of World War I and later became the Eucharistic Youth Movement in the 1960s.
What does membership in the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network involve?
The commitment is simply to pray the daily offering and try to live it. There are various ways of making a daily offering. There are traditional prayers people like to use, that they grew up with, or new prayers. There’s no required formula that has to be followed.
And there’s no membership fee. Our hope is that as people begin praying for the pope’s intentions, they will want to be more involved in our work and help other people learn about it.
|The March 2017 "Pope Video" calls on people to pray for persecuted Christians.||
What is the story behind “The Pope Video?”
Father Frédéric Fornos, SJ, international director of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network, was very interested in using the media to revive and re-create the Apostleship of Prayer. “Re-created” was an important word that then-Superior General Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, used. He felt the Apostleship of Prayer needed new energy. As a younger man who was media savvy, Fr. Fornos saw that the re-creation process would be helped by a new image and name and the use of new media. He worked with a company called La Machi and got permission to interview the Holy Father and put together 12 months of short clips where he asks for prayers for his different intentions. It began in January 2016 and made a big impact.
The Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network is also behind the Click to Pray app. How does the app work?
Click to Pray is another La Machi initiative. The idea is to remind people about the spirituality of offering at the heart of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network. At the beginning of the day, a message will come with a prayer inviting you to offer your day to God and keep in mind the pope’s prayer intention for the month. In the mid-day period, another message comes, usually with an inspirational quote to remind you about the offering you have made. Then, at the end of the day, there’s a review question to help you make an Examen. It comes out of that strong Eucharistic spirituality of seeing your life in union with the life of Jesus and his offering of himself. It’s available for free in both iPhone and Android platforms and has been growing in popularity.
What are some of the network’s other initiatives, both digital and otherwise?
Around 2004, I became involved with Catholic radio, particularly Relevant Radio and the Son Rise Morning Show. At the beginning of the month, I go on to give a brief reflection about the pope’s intention, what’s important, and why we’re praying for this intention.
By 2006, I was doing daily two-minute reflections, and in 2007, I decided that because I had these reflections in recorded form, it would be nice to put some images to them and create daily videos about the saint of the day, season of the year, or liturgical readings. I get all kinds of feedback from teachers who say they like to use the videos for prayer at the beginning of their classes. On our website, we also provide materials for grade school kids to become familiar with the pope’s intentions.
We’re also involved with prison ministry through a group in Milwaukee called Dismas Ministry. They include our leaflets in the initial package they send to prisoners. Many prisoners then contact us asking to enroll in the Apostleship of Prayer. A number of prisoners have indicated that they get the original inspiration of the Apostleship of Prayer, just as the Jesuit seminarians who felt like their lives were not of much significance. Prisoners, who are alone and away from society, feel like they’re wasting their time. They have written telling us how important it has been for them to feel part of this international prayer group praying with and for Pope Francis.
The Sacred Heart devotion, which involves dedication to Jesus’ heart as a sign of his love for humanity, is often associated with certain prayers and participating in Mass the first Friday of each month for nine consecutive months. Could you explain this devotion’s connection to the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network?
The way I see it is that Sacred Heart devotion is more than saying a few prayers and going to Mass on first Fridays. It involves a transformation of heart. I try to help people see that through the Scriptures and through the Eucharist, they are invited to a heart-to-heart relationship with God and that the heart of Jesus is a great symbol for God’s love in the world. The heart of God is open to all the world, and Jesus offered himself and opened his heart for everyone.
The iconography of the Sacred Heart, whether it’s statues or paintings, shows Jesus with his heart on the outside of his body, as though to say, “My heart always goes out to you.” He doesn’t hide his love from us or put barriers between himself and us. The heart is always there for us to know his love, and we in turn are called to have our hearts transformed, to have that same universal love, and to not harden our hearts or build up defenses to protect ourselves but to have our hearts open to all those people that Jesus’ heart is open to as well.
How has the mission of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network changed over time?
Pre-Vatican II spirituality may have been more individualistic, even though the pope’s intentions have always invited us to look outside ourselves, our parish community, our own family, our own nation. But when we spoke about Sacred Heart spirituality, it tended toward a “Jesus and me” approach. What we have tried to do is help people who may have a more traditional spirituality move toward sharing the desires and concerns of the heart of Jesus that come to us through the pope’s monthly prayer intentions. And that involves some interest in the issues of social justice in our world.
On the other hand, there are many people who may have dismissed Sacred Heart spirituality and the Apostleship of Prayer because they saw it as too pious or individualistic. And yet, people who are engaged in and committed to the issues of social justice in our world need to have a strong personal relationship with Jesus. Without that, they easily burn out or give up hope. So, I see the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network as being a bridge and means by which some of the polarization in our Church and world can be overcome, so that those who have perhaps a more traditional, individualistic spirituality would be brought to have the concerns of social justice, and those who have more social justice emphasis would see the need for a deeper prayer life that the heart of Jesus invites us to have.
How can someone become a member of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network?
The easiest way is to go online and enroll via our website (http://www.popesprayerusa.net/). We also get enrollments from our leaflets, which have all the pope’s intentions for the year and a little enrollment form people can send in. Or they can just call us at 414-486-1152.
|Fr. James Kubicki, SJ, in Rome||