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Praying with the Pope

The Apostleship of Prayer is a network of over 50 million people worldwide praying in unity for the good of the world, the church and one another. Its mission is to encourage Christians to live out their desire to serve God in their lives and to pray for the Pope’s monthly intentions. The January Universal Intention is for peace.

Pope Francis calls us to pray that people from different religions and all people of good will may work together for peace. In his message for the World Day of Peace on 1 January, the Pope highlights the many forms of slavery that exist in today’s world: human trafficking, trade in migrants and prostitutes, exploitation, slave labour, and the enslavement of women and children.

Although slavery, seen as a crime against humanity, has been formally abolished throughout the world, and the international community has adopted numerous agreements aimed at ending its existance in all its forms, there are millions of people today – children, women and men of all ages who are deprived of freedom and are forced to live in conditions akin to slavery. The Pope has asked all people of good will to work together to end slavery, stating that this immense task “deserves the appreciation of the whole Church and society”.

Charles Searson SJ is an active promoter of the Apostleship of Prayer in Zambia. He has written a reflection on the Pope’s Univeral Intention for January which is published below.

Pope’s Intention for January: That those from diverse religious traditions and all people of good will may work together for peace.

Pope Francis is certainly giving a lead here, living out his own intention by reaching out to non-Catholic and non-Christian traditions. He is on record as having asked a blessing from Pentecostals. On his visit to Turkey last year, he asked Patriarch Bartholomew to pray for him. One of his closest friends is a rabbi.

Such contacts with the religious ‘other’ do not always go down well with everyone. It’s hardly surprising that people under persecution might be a little sceptical. A recent Southern Cross headline reported that Kenya’s Christians were ‘living in fear’ of being targeted for summary execution just because they are non-Muslims. As extremists move well beyond the lunatic fringe, the possibility of any form of reconciliation, let alone positive dialogue, must seem utterly remote. And if one’s life and the lives of one’s family are threatened, options for action are instinctively narrowed to fight or flight – ‘the centre cannot hold…’

Of course this is just what the men of terror want. They desire to drive a wedge between the faiths. The last thing Boko Haram in Nigeria or Christian militias in the Central African Republic want is a spirit of tolerance and respect between Muslims and non-Muslims. They need the ‘other’ to be a mortal enemy who can therefore be eliminated in their unholy wars. This leads to the classic unbreakable cycle of violence made that more horrible by being sacredly sanctioned.

Hence, the importance of the patient and long term work of dialogue. The more we are rent asunder by religiously inspired violence, the more it is important to reach out to the peacemakers in the other traditions. That we did so, often in practical ways through our institutions such as those caring for refugees, will be remembered and will bear fruit when the time comes for reconstruction.