This account was written by Donal Neary SJ. The six thousand congregation met to celebrate the anniversary with Pope Francis in the Pope VI Hall on 28 June 2019.
Our party of 38 Irish and 8 British collected their tickets for the Papal Audience to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Apostleship of Prayer and then moved to the first obstacle of the day – the long queue to get through the Vatican security. Apart from one of our group having her bottle of water confiscated and thrown into a bin nearby all went smoothly enough – in 35C heat! We retrieved the bottle a few hours later.
The audience, for about 6000 devotees of the Pope’s Worldwide Network of Prayer, the Apostleship’s new name, began about 10 a.m., with addresses from Fr Frederick Fornos SJ, the Pope’s delegate to the AoP, and other speakers. Youth and adult choirs entertained us for the hours until Pope Francis arrived. One group did a dance to the tune of ‘She moved through the fair’ and we even had a rendering of ‘You Raise me UP’ which is by now almost given the status of a hymn. People met people, and in the group around me I met Fr Silvan from Sri Lanka who had made tertianship in Ireland and Fr Matthew of Taiwan and Fr Marek of Poland, both of whom had spent months in Ireland to learn English.
To huge cheers the Pope arrived and made his way onto the platform, greeting there, among other, Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, General of the Jesuits. He spoke in Spanish and responded to speeches from some delegates from different part of the world. His own speech covered his understanding of the AoP now and his tribute to the work over the years.
He thanked all those present for their commitment to the prayer of the Heart, and heard testimonies from a number of people from around the world who are working in prayer ministry.
Here are some excerpts from Pope Francis’ speech addressed to the thousands of Network members who gathered:
“Thanks for this visit! I take this opportunity to renew my gratitude to you for your commitment to prayer and to the apostolate for the mission of the Church. Yours is a most necessary service, which underlines the primacy of God in people’s lives, fostering communion in the Church. It is a mission of compassion for the world, we could say a ‘journey of the heart,’ that is, a prayerful journey that transforms people’s lives. Closeness to the Heart of the Lord urges our heart to approach our brother with love, and helps us to enter into this compassion for the world. We are called to be witnesses and messengers of God’s mercy, to offer the world a perspective of light where there is darkness. (…)
I would also like to thank the Society of Jesus. It is thought that the Jesuits are the intellectuals, those who think… But it was the Jesuits who created this prayer network. The Jesuits are men who pray, and this is great. And then, in a special way, I would like to thank the dedication and creativity of Father Fornos: thank you, brother!”
Pope Francis noted that the Network has introduced the daily Click to Pray and many other social media initiatives. He said also, “We must avoid becoming hostages of a net that takes us in, instead of “fishing for fish”, that is, attracting souls to bring to the Lord.”
Before a moment of silent prayer, and remembering the prayer intentions for the month of July, the Pope expressed his thanks for the “precious activity” of the Worldwide Prayer Network: “You help people to have a spiritual gaze, a gaze of faith, on the reality that surrounds them, to recognize what God Himself works in them; it is a gaze of hope.”
The Pope then met many of the directors of the AoP and shook many hands on his way out of the audience hall. Fr Donal Neary SJ recalled with him his time in Milltown Park and the Pope then asked him, as he so often does, ‘please pray for me’. Donal remarked how totally present Pope Francis was to him for that brief half-minutes.
The day concluded with Mass for the feast of the SH in St John Lateran Basilica, celebrated by Fr Sosa. Concelebrants were directors of the AoP in the countries represented, who also met next day in the Jesuit curia for an address by Fr Fornos, explaining the evolution from AoP to PWNP. The atmosphere was joyful and international; and many of the European countries were glad to experience the enthusiasm of churches in other parts of the world.
Some of the Irish/British group met on the Sunday for a tour of the Chiesa S Ignacio and took part in Mass (English speaking) in the church of St Francis Xavier at 26 Via Caravita. Which hosts an English speaking Mass from September to June. In the afternoon we met in the Gesu church for a tour of the church, including to the tombs of St Ignatius and Pedro Arrupe, ending with a memorable visit to the rooms of St Ignatius, with an informative and interesting commentary by Fr Jim Corkery SJ. We are grateful to Fr David Stewart SJ for his input on our Sunday visits.