Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, and Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, participate in a news conference for the release of Pope Francis’ document, “Antiquum Ministerium” (Ancient Ministry), at the Vatican May 11, 2021. In the document the pope institutes the “ministry of catechist.” The screen in the background shows journalists who joined the press conference remotely on Zoom. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Calling for formal recognition of “those lay men and women who feel called by virtue of their baptism to cooperate in the work of catechesis,” Pope Francis has instituted the “ministry of catechist.”

“The Spirit is calling men and women to set out and encounter all those who are waiting to discover the beauty, goodness and truth of the Christian faith,” the pope wrote in “Antiquum Ministerium” (Ancient Ministry), his document released at the Vatican May 11.

In addition to releasing texts of the document in Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish, the Vatican distributed a video of the text translated into Italian sign language.

Pastors must support laypeople in answering the Spirit’s call and “enrich the life of the Christian community through the recognition of lay ministries capable of contributing to the transformation of society through the ‘penetration of Christian values into the social, political and economic sectors,'” the pope said, quoting what he had written about the vocation of laypeople in his 2013 document, “The Joy of the Gospel.”

Bishops’ conferences will need to determine the “process of formation and the normative criteria for admission to this ministry” and devise “the most appropriate forms for the service which these men and women will be called to exercise,” the pope said.

Pope Francis watches as a family carries offertory gifts to the altar during a Mass for catechists in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in this Sept. 29, 2013, file photo. In a document released May 11, 2021, Pope Francis instituted the “ministry of catechist.” (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, he said, “will soon publish the Rite of Institution of the lay ministry of catechist.” The congregation already is working on revised rites for the ministries of lector and acolyte, which Pope Francis opened to women in January.

While millions of lay men and women around the world already serve as catechists, readers and altar servers, formal institution into the ministries signifies that the service is stable, delegated by the bishop and publicly recognized by the church.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, noted how St. Paul VI wrote in 1975 about the importance of laypeople using their gifts for the growth of the entire church.

“It has taken almost 50 years for the church to come to recognize that the service rendered by so many men and women through their catechetical commitment truly constitutes a distinctive ministry for the growth of the Christian community,” the archbishop told reporters at a news conference to present the pope’s document.

In his document, Pope Francis noted how teachers of the faith were present from the earliest days of the Christian community and were recognized as having a special gift of the Holy Spirit for carrying out their role within the community.

“At times,” he wrote, “the charisms that the Spirit constantly pours out on the baptized took on a visible and tangible form of immediate service to the Christian community, one recognized as an indispensable ‘diakonia’ for the community.”

In looking at the history of evangelization, the pope said, Catholics cannot overlook “the countless lay men and women who directly took part in the spread of the Gospel through catechetical instruction. Men and women of deep faith, authentic witnesses of holiness, who in some cases were also founders of churches and eventually died as martyrs.”

Still today, he said, “many competent and dedicated catechists are community leaders in various parts of the world and carry out a mission invaluable for the transmission and growth of the faith.”

Especially in communities without a resident priest, catechists are the leaders of the local Catholic community, evangelizing, convoking and guiding their fellow Catholics in prayer and works of charity. And, in missionary territories under the guidance of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, they already serve with a specific mandate from their bishop.

“The long line of blesseds, saints and martyrs who were catechists has significantly advanced the church’s mission and deserves to be recognized, for it represents a rich resource not only for catechesis but also for the entire history of Christian spirituality,” Pope Francis wrote.

The formal institution of catechists, he said, should be a sign and encouragement for all lay Catholics to recognize “even more the missionary commitment proper to every baptized person, a commitment that must however be carried out in a fully ‘secular’ manner, avoiding any form of clericalization.”

Archbishop Fisichella said Pope Francis was insisting that lay “men and women are called to express their baptismal vocation in the best possible way, not as substitutes for priests or consecrated persons, but as authentic laymen and laywomen who, in the distinctive nature of their ministry, are able to experience the full of extent of their baptismal vocation of witness and effective service in the community and the world.”

Laypeople who feel called to the ministry of catechists should be actively involved in the life of their Catholic communities and faithful to the Gospel and the teaching of the church, he said. But they also must receive “suitable biblical, theological, pastoral and pedagogical formation to be competent communicators of the truth of the faith.”

“Catechists are called first to be expert in the pastoral service of transmitting the faith as it develops through its different stages from the initial proclamation” of the Gospel, preparation for receiving the sacraments and support in living a Christian life, the pope said.

Presenting the document to reporters, Archbishop Fisichella said catechesis “cannot be improvised.”

“Those who will be catechists must know that they speak in the name of the church and transmit the faith of the church,” he said.

 

Pope Francis greets people during his weekly general audience in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican May 12, 2021. It was the first time in more than six months that visitors and pilgrims have been able to attend the audience. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Holding a general audience with visitors and pilgrims present for the first time in more than six months, Pope Francis said he was very pleased to see people “face to face.”

“I’ll tell you something: it’s not nice to talk in front of nothing, just a camera. It’s not nice,” the pope told about 300 people who attended the audience May 12 in the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace.

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the last general audience open to the public was Oct. 28. After that, the pope returned to livestreaming the audience from the library of the Apostolic Palace.

Greeting Polish speakers at the audience, the pope noted that May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, marked the 40th anniversary of the attempt to assassinate St. John Paul II.

The Polish pope, who was riding in the popemobile at the start of a weekly general audience when he was shot by Mehmet Ali Agca in 1981, was convinced “that he owed his life to Our Lady of Fatima,” Pope Francis said. “This event makes us aware that our lives and the history of the world are in the hands of God.”

In his main audience talk, Pope Francis focused on overcoming obstacles to prayer, but also on the power of prayer.

Prayer, he told the crowd, is not always “a walk in the park.”

While it may be easy to “parrot” prayer, “blah, blah, blah,” he said, real prayer requires effort.

Prayer “certainly gives great peace, but through inner struggle, at times hard, which can accompany even long periods of life,” he said.

Often when a person wants to pray, he said, “we are immediately reminded of many other activities, which at that moment seem more important and more urgent. This happens to me, too; ‘I’m going to go pray. But no, I have to do this and that.’ We run from prayer; I don’t know why, but that’s how it is.”

But “almost always, after putting off prayer, we realize that those things were not essential at all, and that we may have wasted time” on things that were not as important as prayer, he said. “This is how the Enemy deceives us.”

Pope Francis told the story of a man he knew in Buenos Aires, Argentina, “my other diocese,” who was told that his 9-year-old daughter was sick, and the doctors were convinced she was about to die. The man took a train to the Basilica of Our Lady of Luján and prayed outside all night, “fighting for the health of his daughter.”

When he got back to the hospital, he found his wife smiling because their daughter suddenly improved, the pope said.

“I saw this myself,” Pope Francis said. “Prayer works miracles because prayer goes straight to the center of the tenderness of God who loves us like a father. And when he does not give us the grace” of what was asked for in prayer, “he gives us another, which we will see over time.”

 

Pope Francis leads his general audience in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican April 28, 2021. The pope reflected on the theme of meditation as he continued his series of talks on prayer. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – While millions of laypeople around the world are recognized as catechists in their parish or diocese, Pope Francis is preparing to formally institute the “ministry of catechist.”

The Vatican press office said May 5 that Pope Francis’ apostolic letter “Antiquum Ministerium” (“Ancient Ministry”), instituting the ministry, would be released May 11.

Pope Francis often has spoken of the importance of selecting, training and supporting catechists, who are called to lead people to a deeper relationship with Jesus, prepare them to receive the sacraments and educate them in the teachings of the church.

In many parts of the world, especially in communities without a resident priest, catechists are the leaders of the local Catholic community, evangelizing, convoking and guiding their fellow Catholics in prayer and works of charity. And, in missionary territories under the guidance of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, they already serve with a specific mandate from their bishop.

The congregation’s 1997 Guide for Catechists noted that “the Code of Canon Law has a canon on catechists involved in strictly missionary activity and describes them as ‘lay members of Christ’s faithful who have received proper formation and are outstanding in their living of the Christian life. Under the direction of missionaries, they are to present the Gospel teaching and engage in liturgical worship and in works of charity.'”

In some communities, it said, catechists may be entrusted by their bishop with the tasks of: “preaching to non-Christians; catechizing catechumens and those already baptized; leading community prayer, especially at the Sunday liturgy in the absence of a priest; helping the sick and presiding at funerals; training other catechists in special centers or guiding volunteer catechists in their work; taking charge of pastoral initiatives and organizing parish functions; helping the poor and working for human development and justice.”

The Statistical Yearbook of the Church, a Vatican publication, said that as of Dec. 31, 2019, there were more than 3 million catechists serving the church.

At meetings of the Synod of Bishops over the past 30 years, especially synods for individual regions of the world, bishops highlighted the important role of lay catechists in building and sustaining local Christian communities and called for more resources to be devoted to their training and support and for greater recognition and respect for their contributions.

Pope Francis’ decision to formally institute the ministry of catechist seems to be a response to those calls.

The move follows the pope’s decision in January to open the ministries of lector and acolyte to women. While in most dioceses women already served as readers and altar servers at Mass, they were not formally instituted in those services on a stable basis.

In his January decision, the pope cited the request made by members of the 2019 Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, asking that the church “promote and confer ministries for men and women in an equitable manner. The fabric of the local church, in the Amazon as elsewhere, is guaranteed by small missionary church communities that cultivate faith, listen to the Word and celebrate together close to the people’s life. It is the church of baptized men and women that we must consolidate by promoting ministries and, above all, an awareness of baptismal dignity.”

 

Lilaben Gautambhai Modi, 80, wearing an oxygen mask, sits inside an ambulance as she waits to enter a COVID-19 hospital for treatment, amid the spread of the disease in Ahmedabad, India, May 5, 2021. As India faces a massive surge in new infections and deaths caused by COVID-19, Pope Francis said he was praying for all those affected by the huge health emergency. (CNS photo/Amit Dave, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – As India faces a massive surge in new infections and deaths caused by COVID-19, Pope Francis said he was praying for all those affected by the huge health emergency.

With so many in India suffering, “I am writing to convey my heartfelt solidarity and spiritual closeness to all the Indian people, together with the assurance of my prayers that God will grant healing and consolation to everyone affected by this grave pandemic,” he wrote.

Smashing global records, on May 5 more than 412,000 new cases and 3,980 deaths were registered in India in just 24 hours; however, health experts estimate the actual numbers are much higher due to unrecorded deaths and infections. The World Health Organization said India has accounted for 46% of global cases and 25% of global deaths reported in the past week.

In a written message sent May 6 to Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the pope said he was praying for all those who have become sick, for their families and caregivers and for those mourning the loss of loved ones.

“I think too of the many doctors, nurses, hospital workers, ambulance drivers and those working tirelessly to respond to the immediate needs of their brothers and sisters,” the pope wrote. “With deep appreciation I invoke upon all of them God’s gifts of perseverance, strength and peace.”

Rohan Aggarwal, 26, a resident doctor treating patients suffering from COVID-19, tends to a patient inside the emergency room of Holy Family Hospital during his 27-hour shift in New Delhi, India, May 1, 2021. As India faces a massive surge in new infections and deaths caused by COVID-19, Pope Francis said he was praying for all those affected by the huge health emergency. (CNS photo/Danish Siddiqui, Reuters)

The pope also expressed his closeness to the nation’s Catholic communities and thanked them for their “charity and fraternal solidarity carried out in the service of all; I think especially of the generosity shown by so many committed young people.”

He prayed for the faithful who have lost their lives, including “the great numbers of priests and men and women religious,” and asked that “in these days of immense grief, may we all be consoled in the hope born of Easter and our unshakable faith in Christ’s promise of resurrection and new life.”

Meanwhile, UNICEF has warned that the deadly surge in COVID-19 cases in India “is larger and spreading more rapidly than the first,” putting an enormous strain on health and critical care facilities.

“Urgent action is needed to avert further tragic loss of life,” it said on its website, appealing for funding to deliver urgently needed testing equipment, supplies and oxygen products and other services.

The pandemic’s first wave last year resulted in major cuts to public health services in South Asia, costing the lives of an estimated 228,000 children and 11,000 mothers, said George Laryea-Adjei, UNICEF’s regional director.

Essential health services, such as routine inoculations, have been disrupted and even risk being shut down with healthcare staff, equipment and facilities being diverted to addressing the ballooning pandemic, he said in a statement May 4.

Increasing numbers of children are being hurt by the pandemic as they lose parents and caregivers, witness traumatic scenes and lose vital health care, nutritional, education and support services, he said.

The current second wave throughout South Asia has the potential to cause immense devastation, Laryea-Adjei warned saying immediate assistance from the international community was “a moral imperative.”

 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – As countries become more culturally and ethnically diverse, their Catholic communities become more “catholic” and their societies can increasingly reflect the fact that all people are brothers and sisters, Pope Francis said.

“In encountering the diversity of foreigners, migrants and refugees, and in the intercultural dialogue that can emerge from this encounter, we have an opportunity to grow as church and to enrich one another,” the pope wrote in his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which will be marked Sept. 26 in most countries.

“All the baptized, wherever they find themselves, are by right members of both their local ecclesial community and the one church, dwellers in one home and part of one family,” the pope wrote in the message, which was released May 6 at the Vatican.

The message called on all Catholics to build up the church by welcoming and getting to know Catholic migrants and refugees and reaching out with a witness of charity to members of other religions, and it called on all people to enrich the diversity of their countries by accepting newcomers and ensuring they are not left languishing in poverty.

Cardinal Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees Section, was asked about people who fear, for example, that continuing migration will bring more Muslims to Europe, contributing to a further decline of Christianity on the continent.

“It is a real problem if one feels insecure or threatened or vulnerable in one’s faith life because of others,” he said. “We need to get beyond the ‘wall,’ beyond the barrier,” and a first step could be to ask, “Have I ever spoken with or even listened to someone from that other faith? Do I know what I am talking about or am I relying on images and slogans and hearsay?”

A Christian has an obligation to seek the truth, the cardinal said, “and not rely on these fear-mongering cliches which are not only baseless but are, in fact, serving other motives.”

The theme the pope chose for the day is “Toward an ever wider ‘we,'” and it builds on the teaching in his encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.”

In the encyclical, his message said, “I expressed a concern and a hope that remain uppermost in my thoughts: ‘Once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation.”

“God willing,” he said, “after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those,’ but only ‘us.'”

God created human beings different from one another but as members of one family, the pope said. “When, in disobedience we turned away from God, he in his mercy wished to offer us a path of reconciliation, not as individuals but as a people, a ‘we,’ meant to embrace the entire human family, without exception.”

In today’s world, though, “this ‘we’ willed by God is broken and fragmented, wounded and disfigured,” he said.

“Our ‘we,’ both in the wider world and within the church, is crumbling and cracking due to myopic and aggressive forms of nationalism and radical individualism,” Pope Francis said. “The highest price is being paid by those who most easily become viewed as others: foreigners, migrants, the marginalized, those living on the existential peripheries.”

For Catholics, he said, bucking the trend and welcoming others is part of “a commitment to becoming ever more faithful to our being ‘catholic,'” or universal.

Catholics, he said, are called to work together “to make the church become ever more inclusive as she carries out the mission entrusted to the Apostles by Jesus Christ” to proclaim the Gospel and care for those in need.

“In our day,” the pope said, “the church is called to go out into the streets of every existential periphery in order to heal wounds and to seek out the straying, without prejudice or fear, without proselytizing, but ready to widen her tent to embrace everyone.”

The global movement of people, he said, means “our societies will have a ‘colorful’ future, enriched by diversity and by cultural exchanges. Consequently, we must even now learn to live together in harmony and peace.”

“We must make every effort to break down the walls that separate us and, in acknowledging our profound interconnection, build bridges that foster a culture of encounter,” the pope insisted.

Joining the Vatican news conference from England, Auxiliary Bishop Paul McAleenan of Westminster said people in wealthy nations that extract resources from poorer countries and contribute heavily to climate change must recognize “that we are not blameless” in causing people to flee their homes.

In response, he said, “the aim of the church is to welcome, protect and promote all, knowing that human life and well-being are at risk, not national security.”

Salesian Sister Alessandra Smerilli, undersecretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said using the excuse of “we have to take care of our own first” will not work in ending the COVID-19 pandemic nor in stemming the flow of migration because of conflict, poverty or climate change.

“In an interconnected world, we must understand,” she said, that “we are all in the same boat.”

The problems are so intertwined that “it’s useless to think of our own citizens first and then others,” Sister Smerilli said. “If we want to help people overcome the difficulties in their homelands, we must think of everyone. We want to overcome this. We want all of us to overcome this. We want all of us to be better.”

 

A statue of St. Joseph is seen as Pope Francis leads his general audience at the Vatican March 24, 2021. With the approval of the pope, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has published several additions to the Litany of St. Joseph. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Updating the Litany of St. Joseph, approved in 1909, the Vatican has added seven invocations, including two that address the guardian of Jesus and husband of Mary as “support in difficulty” and “patron of refugees.”

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments published the additions May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker.

The additions were approved by Pope Francis, the congregation said, and drew the new invocations mainly from modern papal texts about St. Joseph, including Pope Francis’ December apostolic letter proclaiming a Year of St. Joseph and St. John Paul II’s 1989 apostolic exhortation, “Redemptoris Custos” (“Protector of the Redeemer”).

Since Pope Francis wanted, as he wrote in his letter, “to increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal,” the congregation said, it seemed appropriate to update the 112-year-old litany.

Providing only the Latin-language version of the invocations, the congregation said it would be up to bishops’ conferences to translate the phrases and to add others if St. Joseph is invoked by their people in a particular way.

The Latin phrases are: “Custos Redemptoris” (Protector of the Redeemer); “Serve Christi” (Servant of Christ); “Minister salutis” (Minister of salvation); “Fulcimen in difficultatibus” (Support in difficulty); “Patrone exsulum” (Patron of refugees); “Patrone afflictorum” (Patron of the afflicted); and “Patrone pauperum” (Patron of the poor).

 

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The sainthood causes of seven men and women — including the hermit Blessed Charles de Foucauld and the Indian martyr Devasahayam Pillai — cleared their final hurdle May 3 during an “ordinary public consistory,” a meeting of the pope, cardinals and promoters of sainthood causes that formally ends the sainthood process.

The meeting included a prayer, an affirmation that church law had been followed in preparing for the candidates’ declaration of sainthood and a formal request “in the name of Holy Mother Church” that Pope Francis set a date for the canonizations.

Speaking in Latin, Pope Francis approved the canonizations but said the date for the ceremony would have to be determined later, Vatican News reported, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Blessed Charles de Foucauld is undoubtedly the best known of the seven saints-to-be.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” described Blessed de Foucauld as a “person of deep faith who, drawing upon his intense experience of God, made a journey of transformation toward feeling a brother to all.”

“Blessed Charles directed his ideal of total surrender to God toward an identification with the poor, abandoned in the depths of the African desert,” the pope wrote. “In that setting, he expressed his desire to feel himself a brother to every human being and asked a friend to ‘pray to God that I truly be the brother of all.’ He wanted to be, in the end, ‘the universal brother.’ Yet only by identifying with the least did he come at last to be the brother of all. May God inspire that dream in each one of us.”

Born in Strasbourg, France, in 1858, Blessed de Foucauld strayed from the faith during his adolescence, but during a trip to Morocco, he saw how devoted Muslims were to their faith, which inspired him to return to the church.

He joined the Trappists, living in monasteries in France and in Syria, before seeking an even more austere life as a hermit. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1901, he lived among the poor and finally settled in Tamanrasset, Algeria. In 1916, he was killed by a band of marauders. His writings inspired the foundation, after his death, of the Little Brothers of Jesus and the Little Sisters of Jesus.

The martyr of India who will be declared a saint is Blessed Pillai, an 18th-century Catholic layman who was killed for refusing to refute his faith despite being brutally tortured.

Born to an upper-caste Hindu family in 1712 and given the name Neelakanda, Blessed Pillai became a trusted soldier of the Hindu king but later incurred his wrath for embracing Christianity. Baptized in May 1745, he was given the name Devasahayam, a Tamil rendering of the biblical name Lazarus.

He began preaching and converted his wife and others, which made many officials angry. He was arrested and sentenced to death in 1749, but just before he was sent to the gallows, the Hindu king canceled the execution order. Blessed Pillai remained imprisoned for three more years, enduring torture and public beatings and ridicule for refusing to renounce his faith before secretly being taken into the jungle and shot.

The others approved for canonization are:

– Blessed César de Bus, the France-born founder of the Fathers of Christian Doctrine, a religious congregation dedicated to education, pastoral ministry and catechesis. Born in 1544, he died in 1607.

– Blessed Luigi Maria Palazzolo, an Italian priest and founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Poor. He was beatified by St. John XXIII in 1963. The sainthood causes of six members of the order who died in Congo in 1995 caring for victims of Ebola also are underway.

– Blessed Giustino Maria Russolillo, an Italian priest who founded the Society of Divine Vocations for men and the Vocationist Sisters. He was born in 1891 and died in 1955.

– Blessed Anna Maria Rubatto, founder of the order now known as the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto. She was born in Carmagnola, Italy, in 1844 and died in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1904.

– Blessed Maria Domenica Mantovani, co-founder and first superior general of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family. Born in 1862 in Castelletto di Brenzone, Italy, she dedicated her life to serving the poor and needy as well as assisting the sick and the elderly. She died in 1934.

 

 

Princess Leonore, held by Sweden’s Queen Silvia, gives a papal key chain to Pope Francis during her grandmother’s private audience with Pope Francis in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican in this April 27, 2015, file photo. The pope has chosen the theme, “I am with you always,” for the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which will be celebrated July 25, 2021. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – To express the closeness of God and of the church to every older person, Pope Francis has chosen “I am with you always” from the Gospel of Matthew as the theme for the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly.

The theme for the celebration July 25 is especially appropriate “in these challenging pandemic times,” said the announcement from the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life.

“‘I am with you always’ is also a promise of closeness and hope that young and old can mutually share. Not only are grandchildren and young people called upon to be present in the lives of older people, but older people and grandparents also have a mission of evangelization, proclamation and prayer, and of encouraging young people in their faith,” the statement said.

Pope Francis announced in late January that he was establishing the World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which is to be celebrated each year on the fourth Sunday of July to coincide with the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Jesus’ grandparents.

Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the dicastery, had said the annual event would be “a gift to the whole church” and one that emphasizes the pastoral care of the elderly as “a priority that can no longer be postponed by any Christian community.”

“In the encyclical, ‘Fratelli Tutti,’ the Holy Father reminds us that no one is saved alone. With this in mind, we must treasure the spiritual and human wealth that has been handed down from generation to generation,” he said.

Pope Francis is expected to mark the day with an evening Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

Elena Vacca and her son Robert Gerkens, parishioners of Our Lady of the Snow Church in Blue Point, N.Y., participate in a “Rosary Coast to Coast” prayer rally at a local beach in this Oct. 11, 2020, file photo. Pope Francis has called for a global prayer marathon during the Marian month of May to petition God for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis has called for a global prayer marathon for the entire month of May, praying for the end to the pandemic.

“The initiative will involve in a special way all shrines in the world” in promoting the initiative so that individuals, families and communities all take part in reciting the rosary, “to pray for the end of the pandemic,” said the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization in a press release April 21.

“It is the heartfelt desire of the Holy Father that the month of May be dedicated to a prayer marathon dedicated to the theme, ‘from the entire church an unceasing prayer rises to God,'” it said.

The theme refers to the miraculous event recounted in the Acts of the Apostles (12:1-12) when all the church prayed for Peter, who was imprisoned until God sent an angel to free him, illustrating how the Christian community comes together to pray in the face of danger and how the Lord listens and performs an unexpected miracle.

Anabel Mutune, a third grader at Transfiguration Catholic School in Oakdale, Minn., prays during a Children’s Rosary Pilgrimage at Transfiguration Church in this Oct. 7, 2020, file photo. Pope Francis has called for a global prayer marathon during the Marian month of May to petition God for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Each day in May, there will be a livestream from one of 30 chosen Marian shrines or sanctuaries to guide the prayer at 6 p.m. Rome time (noon EDT) on all Vatican media platforms.

The pope will open the monthlong prayer May 1 and conclude it May 31, the council said.

 

Pope Francis delivers his blessing as he leads his general audience in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican April 21, 2021. Continuing his series of talks on prayer, the pope reflected on the importance of speaking the words of prayers out loud rather than seeing prayer just as a mental exercise or form of meditation. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Because prayer is a dialogue with God, people should not dismiss or be embarrassed by saying their prayers out loud or in a whisper, Pope Francis said.

“Vocal prayer is an essential element of the Christian life,” and when Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, it was with a vocal prayer, the “Our Father,” the pope said April 21 during his weekly general audience.

Continuing his series of talks on prayer, the pope reflected on the importance of speaking the words of prayers out loud rather than seeing prayer just as a mental exercise or form of meditation.

Too often, people think reciting a prayer is something only children or the uneducated do, but it is the way Jesus taught his followers to pray, he said.

“The words we speak take us by the hand. At times they restore flavor, they awaken even the sleepiest of hearts,” they reawaken forgotten feelings and they “lead us by the hand toward experiencing God,” he said.

People should be humble when seeing the elderly who unfailingly show their fidelity to the duty of prayer and who are “often the great intercessors of parishes,” he said.

“They are the oaks that from year to year spread their branches to offer shade to the greatest number of people,” he said. And even though they, too, must have faced moments of darkness and emptiness, they remain faithful to vocal prayer.

“It is like an anchor, one can hold onto the rope and remain faithful, come what may,” he said.

“The words of a prayer get us safely through a dark valley, direct us toward green meadows rich in water and enable us to feast in front of the eyes of an enemy,” as Psalm 23 teaches, he said.

The words can both reflect and shape feelings, helping feelings come to light, excluding and censoring nothing, the pope said.

“Pain is dangerous if it stays covered, closed up within us” as it can poison the soul, Pope Francis said.

Sacred Scripture shows the human heart can be home to harmful or hateful feelings, he said, “and when these evil feelings come knocking at the door of our heart, we must be able to defuse them with prayer and God’s words.”

Vocal prayers “are the only ones, in a sure way, that direct to God the questions he wants to hear. Jesus did not leave us in a fog. He told us, ‘Pray then like this,’ and he taught the Lord’s Prayer,” he said.