If there’s one thing Pope Benedict XVI can count on whether he knows it or not, it’s daily prayer and weekly Eucharistic adoration offered on his behalf by an international club for girls.
While they’re at it, the members of Ancora chapters also pray for vocations — and then, not just for vocations in general but also for specific individuals discerning a possible or existing calling. Priests, nuns, religious and seminarians are brought before God by name as Ancora members ask God to strengthen them with perseverance and fidelity.
Whenever the girls can, they ask priests and consecrated souls to personally sign Ancora signature cards so they can pray for each with special focus.
Meanwhile, when they’re not praying, the 11-to-17-year-olds are looking for ways to make good on their commitment to apostolic action.
Carleen Spratt, a 15-year-old member from Alberta, Canada, remembers the reactions from dozens of priests after this year’s Chrism Mass in the Diocese of Providence, R.I., when she and 122 other Ancora members rushed up to ask them to add their names to their signature prayer cards. The girls attended as part of their Ancora Holy Week Convention in nearby Wakefield, R.I.
“The priests were so happy and so consoled that people wanted to pray for their vocations,” beams Spratt. “It moved me to see how much vocations need prayers.”
Father John Halloran, pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Narragansett, R.I., finds great consolation and joy knowing these girls are praying for him.
“I know in my heart of hearts,” he says, “that there is no power greater in this world than the power of prayer.”
Sometimes windows open dramatically for the girls to see how their prayers are actually providing spiritual aid. April Pickett from Chicago points to the time an Ancora group was doing an outreach mission in a parish. They were wearing Ancora T-shirts with the message, “Got happiness? Follow your vocation!” None knew that the non-member girl helping them out was struggling with her vocation, trying to hear God’s voice as she considered joining the Carmelites.
“When she saw the T-shirt,” says Pickett, “right away she knew to follow the path God has chosen for her if she really wants happiness. She decided then to join the Carmelite order.”Formation Station
Ancora was born five years ago in the United States at the Regnum Christi Youth and Family Encounter in Baltimore and in Canada during the World Youth Day in Toronto. The club is a response to the Holy Father’s call to help the Church, explains Cecelia Ramirez, a Regnum Christi consecrated woman who serves as Ancora coordinator for the United States and Canada.
In that short time, she notes, Ancora has drawn 570 members from across the United States, Canada and Australia. Ancora formed in Mexico at the same time and, recently, started chapters in Brazil, Chile and Europe. Every year U.S. Ancora members have a chance to attend a number of conventions, each organized around a different theme.
“Through these conventions we try to get the girls to know and love the Holy Father, and we try to form them in leadership skills,” says Ramirez. Everything is organized by the teens, who leave inspired and better-equipped to witness Christ wherever they go.
Most of the U.S. gatherings are held at Immaculate Conception Academy in Wakefield, R.I., a high school for girls discerning a possible call to consecrated life in the Regnum Christi movement. But this past year, two Ancora conventions were also organized by members in the Baltimore and Cincinnati areas.
Ramirez finds that, when many of the girls ask their parish priest to expose the Blessed Sacrament for adoration, prayer time usually becomes much longer than the dutiful 15 minutes because they invite all interested people. In effect, some girls end up helping launch adoration in their home parishes.
The students of Immaculate Conception Academy can fulfill their commitment by arriving 15 minutes early at Sunday Mass to pray before Christ reserved in the tabernacle, or they can pray before Christ exposed in a monstrance in the school chapel.Parish Pep
Apostolic action gets the spotlight during Rhode Island conventions, when the girls become door-to-door missionaries for local parishes. During Holy Week this year, they visited more than 500 families, inviting them back to church. They also cheered up residents of nursing homes.
There are success stories. April Pickett knocked on a door opened by a woman with a young child. She had just moved into the area.
“As soon as we gave her the invitation, she was really happy and said, ‘Yes, I’ll come to Easter Mass,’” says Pickett. “She was open; she just needed an invitation.”
The girls “understood what the commitment to the Lord Jesus means, and the witness home-to-home had a wonderful impact in the lives of the people they visited,” explains Father Halloran of the work Ancora members did at St. Thomas More Church. “They could see the hunger and love for Christ from these young ladies and could see in the presence of the girls the witness not just in words but in joy of life in response to God’s gentle invitation to follow him.”
This witness continues during the year as girls from Immaculate Conception Academy bring hope, joy and enthusiasm to live and act in the Lord during the parish’s weekly religious-education program.
Not surprisingly, the Ancora girls themselves benefit in many ways. Just ask 17-year-old Elizabeth Fahy of Louisville, Ky. Besides looking forward to bringing her signature cards to Sunday Mass and praying afterwards, she gave a presentation of Ancora at a parish other than her own.
“I was shy at the time,” she says, “but [I knew] people needed to love the Holy Father as a father.”
Then there’s another blessing for both the members and the Church.
“Ancora opens girls’ minds to a vocation because they pray for vocations,” says the club’s 18-year-old president, Paulette Cameron. Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, she’s now in Rhode Island as a candidate for the Regnum Christi consecrated women’s life. She explains that the girls see the beauty of a vocation and respond.
“The biggest fruit in my own life was the love of the Holy Father,” says 17-year-old Hannah Wilder. “One moment when watching a video on John Paul II it clicked — he was my Holy Father.” She then wanted to do much more for the Church.
In this and other ways, Ancora — whose name comes from the anchor symbol the earliest Christians used in catacombs — is fulfilling its motto: “Anchored in Christ, anchored in the Church, anchored in the Pope.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes
from Trumbull, Connecticut.
The Ancora.org website will launch later this year. Until then, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.