Judy Roberts is a journalist who has worked for both the secular and Catholic press. In addition to the Register, she has written for Legatus Magazine, Franciscan Way and Our Sunday Visitor, and is a former religious books reviewer for Publishers Weekly. She also blogs about living more serenely in a busy world at quietkeepers.com.
Catholics troubled by the clergy sexual abuse crisis responded in unprecedented numbers to last year’s International Week of Prayer and Fasting, but organizer Maureen Flynn says interest in this year’s event, which begins Nov. 2, is even greater.
Flynn, who started the campaign in 1990 and is chair of a coalition of Catholic groups sponsoring the week, attributes the 2019 response to a heightened sense of evil in the form of threats to the family and culture along with concern about division in the Church. She cited in particular the cultural and moral issues of gender confusion, librarians inviting young children to drag-queen story hours, violence in schools and on the streets and politicians blithely talking about infanticide.
At the same time, she said, many people are worried about a possible schism in the Church as they witness division among priests, bishops and cardinals. “So they’re praying for priests, which is one of our goals, and also for more vocations… I don’t think I’ve ever seen Catholics so concerned about the state of the Church.”
Other prayer intentions for the week are the conversion of all peoples and nations, building a culture of life, holiness for members of the Church, defense of the sanctity of marriage and family life, peace and imploring God’s mercy.
Flynn said that as evil is exposed, people are understandably horrified, but there is also an acceleration of good. “The battle lines are drawn so we see more people saying, ‘Yes, I’m in. I want to do something…’ There seems to be more of an awakening that we need spiritual solutions because of the horror of the evil. We can’t just have discussions.”
Flynn said the current crisis in the Church and the world can only be fully remedied by the spiritual weapons of the Mass, Eucharistic adoration, the Rosary and fasting. “Our Lord, his Blessed Mother and the saints have told us that these spiritual weapons will destroy evil.”
Those who have contacted the IWOPF office to participate are organizing adoration in their parishes, praying the Rosary after Masses and committing to join others in fasting. Families are responding as well by putting the IWOPF flyer on their refrigerators and cutting back on what they’re eating for the week.
Camille Wurm is mobilizing fellow parishioners at St. Mary of Sorrows Parish in Fairfax, Virginia, urging them to register to pledge their prayers and fasting for the week, which continues through Nov. 10. She also has organized holy hours and the showing of a video featuring Father Ubald Rugirangoga, one of the speakers for the kickoff of the International Week.
Father Rugirangoga, a priest of the Cyangugu Diocese of southeastern Rwanda, lost more than 80 members of his family and more than 45,000 of his parishioners during the 1994 genocide in his country. He now preaches about healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.
“We’re in a spiritual war right now as everyone knows,” Wurm said. Although she has helped promote the IWOPF for the last few years, she said she senses something different this year. “I felt this impetus, maybe because I’m involved with the March for Life. I just felt that things are changing. We’re really moving minds and hearts, particularly with the young people… We can evangelize and that’s what I’m doing and I think we’re making headway. I see it. I feel it.”
The International Week of Prayer and Fasting opens at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 2 with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and a Eucharistic procession at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, followed by recitation of the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary and talks by Father Chris Alar, director of the Association of Marian Helpers, and Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America.
Other events include recitation of the joyful and glorious mysteries of the Rosary, adoration and healing prayer, a procession of the nations, Mass at 1 p.m. with Msgr. Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish in Washington and a popular blogger and speaker, and a talk by Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood director whose story inspired the book and film Unplanned. The day closes with recitation of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, a talk by Father Rugirangoga and Benediction. Confessions also will be available from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 2:15 to 4:15 p.m.
All opening day events will be livestreamed online.
Flynn started the week of prayer and fasting with her husband, Ted, and the late John Downs, president of Apostolatus Uniti, as a national effort to end abortion. The inaugural event, on Oct. 7, 1990, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, drew 500 people, including seven members of Congress, praying in front of the U.S. Capitol, and since has become international with thousands of people participating.