VATICAN CITY — A concerted effort is under way in Rome and in dioceses around the world to have Pope Francis introduce a prayer for the poor, persecuted and oppressed at the end of every Sunday Mass.
The Register has learned that Church officials at the highest levels are “extremely interested” in having such a prayer inserted into all celebrations of Sunday Mass in accordance with the liturgical norms of the Missale Romanum 2002, the Missale Romanum 1962 and the liturgical customs and norms of the Eastern Churches.
The initiative is being taken not only because of the increasing persecution of Christians, but also in view of the many victims of abortion, human trafficking, poverty and oppression around the world.
It follows regular appeals from Pope Francis, who has urged people to speak out against persecution of Christians, whom he has likened to the Church’s first martyrs. Cardinal Timothy Dolan also made a point of bringing it to people’s attention. In his final speech as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference last November, he called on his brother bishops to champion the cause of people persecuted for their faith and to fight to protect religious freedom.
“Our Christian brothers and sisters [are] experiencing lethal persecution on a scale that defies belief,” he told the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore.
The issue was also raised by cardinals at the extraordinary consistory in February ahead of the October synod on the family.
The prayer would be reminiscent of the former Leonine prayer, which called for the conversion of Russia at the end of Mass. Like the Leonine prayer, established by Pope Leo XIII and which was removed in 1965, the new petition would also include the Prayer to St. Michael, said to be one of Pope Francis’ favorite prayers.
“Those who are practicing Catholics should be conscious of these unacceptable assaults on the God-given freedom and dignity of human persons,” said one source helping to lead the campaign and speaking on condition of anonymity. “You cannot have a Pollyanna view of the world. If nothing else, the faithful can at least express spiritual solidarity with those suffering persecution.” He stressed the proposal has “enormous support.”
Aid to the Church in Need
A number of leading Catholic non-governmental organizations are said to have also given the proposal their strong backing. Aid to the Church in Need, which already has a prayer for persecuted Christians, believes such an addition to the Mass would be both appropriate and timely.
“Coming face-to-face with victims of persecution, as we at ACN do during trips to countries marked by violence and oppression, what we almost always find is that they ask time and again [for us] to pray for them,” John Pontifex, ACN U.K.’s head of press and information, told the Register. “What could be more important an opportunity than praying for them at Mass?”
Pontifex noted that in countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, China, Sudan and Nigeria, many of the worst atrocities suffered by Christians have taken place while at Mass. “For that reason, it’s all the more fitting that we should remember them when we are at Mass ourselves,” he said.
Many Catholics in the West remain ignorant of increasing persecution against Christians. Lord David Alton of Liverpool, a pro-life British peer who has fought for the rights of Christians for many years, told an audience April 11 that the West’s failure to understand the “religious dimension to these terrible atrocities” and the “imperative of harnessing thoughtful and moderate religious leaders from all traditions” leads to a failure to “end the persecution and the unspeakable violence.”
"We in the West, who enjoy so many freedoms and liberties, ignore the systematic violent ideology of an Islamist 'Final Solution' directed at Christian minorities,” he said in a speech to ACN’s Lenten vigil in London.
At the same event, British Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged that Christians “are now the most persecuted religion around the world” and said, “We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other faith groups wherever and whenever we can.”
‘The Most Persecuted Religion’
Pontifex, who believes the prayer would “work best if it were short and clearly worded,” said it “would be great if it acknowledged that Christianity is the most persecuted religion.” He also would like it to show “that our compassion and God’s mercy are sorely needed at a time when, in parts of the world, the faith is at risk of being effectively flushed out by oppression, bigotry and other forms of intolerance.”
Some argue that drawing attention to persecution runs the risk of making it worse and can fuel the fear of those who suffer from it most. Pontifex recognizes the risks, but he believes these concerns “are in themselves nothing compared to the value of praying for persecuted Christians at Mass.” He also believes the prayer should not be confined to victims of religious oppression, but that it would be part of “coming together as a family of faith,” because prayer is “the most natural expression of our compassion.”
Lela Gilbert, co-author of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians and adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, said she found it “hard to think of anything objectionable” about a prayer for the persecuted Church at the end of every Sunday Mass.
“Not only does it raise awareness and combat ignorance — which is plentiful in places where the media is disinterested in issues related to Christianity — but it also lifts our struggling brothers and sisters before the Lord and invokes his power and grace and comfort into their lives,” she said.
Adoration, Fasting and Almsgiving
A separate proposal being forwarded to the Holy Father also suggests adoration before the Blessed Sacrament on Fridays for the intentions of the poor, oppressed and persecuted. It further aims to introduce the other two spiritual weapons: fasting and almsgiving.
The Pope, campaigners propose, should bring back abstinence from meat on Fridays, as the bishops of England and Wales did a few years ago. They would also like the Holy Father to call the Church to a renewed practice of charity and almsgiving in the face of these many evils, all of which are of great concern to the Pope.
In this context, Pontifex said the words of ACN’s founder, Father Werenfried van Straaten, are highly appropriate. “They are being tested in faith,” Father van Straaten once said. “We are being tested in love.”
Following is a draft text of prayer being proposed for the poor, persecuted and oppressed, which would be followed by the Prayer to St. Michael.
Almighty, ever-living God,
Your incarnate Son taught us that those who suffer for your name are blessed.
Give love for their neighbor to all people of goodwill.
Inspire rulers and governments to work tirelessly for peace, justice and freedom for all.
Give us a spirit of solidarity and of service for those who suffer and who are poor, that we may bring to them that love your Son made manifest by his suffering and death on the cross.
Help us to recognize the face of the Evil One in our day and give us the strength and means to confront his many works.
Edward Pentin is the Register's Rome correspondent.