Just Gospel: Pope Francis Prays for Persecuted Communities

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ March Prayer Intention for Christian Communities, especially those who are persecuted.

Lent offers us a chance to remember how privileged we are to openly renew the traditions of our faith. Not all Christians in the world will be able to proclaim this holy season, to gather to pray the Stations of the Cross or to have special Lenten services. It is easy for us to overlook the reality of persecution in our modern world. Pope Francis calls us to pray, “that Christian communities, especially those who are persecuted, feel that they are close to Christ and have their rights respected.”

He doesn’t ask that they necessarily be delivered from this injustice, but that they identify their suffering with that of Jesus and that perhaps their Christian approach to persecution will bring about a greater respect. Before we can truly pray about this intention, perhaps we need to be more informed about it. We have only to look at the mainstream news sources to find information.
The persecution and genocide of Christians across the world is worse today “than at any time in history,” and Western governments are failing to stop it, a report from a Catholic organization said.
A study by Aid to the Church in Need said the treatment of Christians has worsened substantially in the past two years compared with the two years prior, and has grown more violent than any other period in modern times.
“Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution,” the report said.

The research showed that Christians suffered crimes against humanity, and some were hanged or crucified. The report found that Saudi Arabia was the only country where the situation for Christians did not get worse, and that was only because the situation couldn’t get any worse than it already was. It detailed attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt and monasteries burned in Syria. In Africa, the report focused on countries like Sudan, where the government ordered that churches be destroyed, and Nigeria, where there has been a surge in attacks on Christians. In Eritrea, hundreds of Christians have been rounded up and imprisoned over the past year because of their faith. The report also documented numerous case studies in which Christians in countries such as India and Nigeria were murdered or beaten for practicing their faith.

Gaudete et Exsultate takes note of Pope Francis’ esteem for those persecuted. He writes, “Saint John Paul II reminded us that ‘the witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants.’” He goes on to say, “The martyrs are a heritage which speaks more powerfully than all the causes of division.”
We can join in the faithfulness of those persecuted who live the Christian challenge to practice meekness. The document tells us, “We live in a world that from the beginning has been a place of conflict, disputes and enmity on all sides, where we constantly pigeonhole others on the basis of their ideas, their customs and even their way of speaking or dressing. Ultimately it is the reign of pride and vanity, where each person thinks he or she has the right to dominate others. Jesus proposes a different way of doing things: the way of meekness. Even when we defend our faith and convictions, we are to do so with meekness. Our enemies too are to be treated with meekness. The meek shall inherit the earth, for they will see God’s promises accomplished in their lives.
When we feel “persecuted” by the words, actions, or judgements of others, let us count ourselves among the company of the meek. Let us offer our little daily persecutions that those who are violently persecuted in the world may have the strength to be meek.

Just Gospel: Pope Francis’ February Prayer Intention

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy addresses Pope Francis’ February Prayer Intention regarding human trafficking.

You may not see the problem, but it’s there. It’s estimated there are more than 21 million human trafficking victims worldwide. This is not something that only occurs in dark alleys in the far corners of the Earth, though. It’s happening around the world every day. Human trafficking is considered modern-day slavery, and there are more slaves today than at any time in history.

“They are hidden from view. You don’t recognize them in the back kitchens, shops, gas stations and in hospitality. They are also tucked away in fields. They don’t come out and ask for help. It’s a different kind of slavery than long ago,” says Dr. Lucy Steinitz, Catholic Relief Services senior technical advisor for protection. “They are not in shackles or on plantations. People are coerced into harsh employment under horrible conditions, and then have no freedom to leave. They are beaten, violated and told they are worthless—that no one else wants them anymore.”

The above quotation is taken from the Catholic Relief Services website, www.crs.org/stories/stop-human-trafficking. This is an excellent source for information on the many faces of human trafficking as well as suggestion for action.

Pope Francis asks us this month to pray “For a generous welcome of the victims of human trafficking, of enforced prostitution and of violence.”
Notice that the Holy Father does not ask us simply to pray for an end to these practices nor for the salvation of these suffering souls. He asks us to welcome them and further, to welcome them generously!

In Gaudete et Exsultate Pope Francis cautions us against finding suspect the activism of others. He writes, “There are those who see social engagement as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life…Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery and every form of rejection.”

He goes on to say, “Those who really wish to give glory to God by their lives, who truly long to grow in holiness, are called to be single-minded and tenacious in their practice of the works of mercy. Saint Teresa of Calcutta clearly realized this: ‘Yes, I have many human faults and failures…But God bends down and uses us, you and me, to be his love and his compassion in the world. He depends on us to love the world and to show how much he loves it. If we are too concerned with ourselves, we will have no time left for others.’”
Let us see the face of Jesus in these suffering ones. Let us make room for them in our prayer, in our awareness and in our compassion.

Just Gospel: Gaudate Et Exsultat and Pope Francis October Intention

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy continues with a series of postings that link Pope Francis’ Gaudate Et Exsultat with his special prayer intention of the month.

This month we once again try to link the thoughts in Pope Francis’ Gaudate Et Exsultat with his intention for the month. That intention has special significance for us as religious. It states, “That consecrated religious men and women may bestir themselves, and be present among the poor, the marginalized, and those who have no voice.”

There are a couple of concepts that stand out in this intention. First, the word bestir. The verb implies that we need to be moved, to be stirred out of complacency. We are confronted by our Pope with his perception that we may be collectively in the wrong place at this juncture of history. That may mean that we are physically living and ministering in areas where we are not present among the poor or it may mean that we are not mentally and/or physically sharing with the lot of those who are marginalized or who have no voice. There are many needs in the Church and all of God’s children need the presence and witness of religious. However, Pope Francis is giving a preference to the poor. If we are not in a position to pack up and bestir ourselves to a poor place, to a home with the marginalized or to become a voice for the voiceless, then we can still bestir our hearts to pray powerfully for these little ones in need. We must bestir ourselves to make the effort to be informed about the plight and poverties of those on the edges of society.

In Gaudate Et Exsultat Pope Francis writes, “Although Jesus’ words (in the Beatitudes) may strike us as poetic, they clearly run counter to the way things are usually done in our world. Even if we find Jesus’ message attractive, the world pushes us towards another way of living. We can only practice the Beatitudes if the Holy Spirit fills us with his power and frees us from our weakness, our selfishness, our complacency and our pride.” These challenging, yet disturbing words don’t allow us to simply think about the plight of those mired in poverty. We are to practice holiness by changing our way of living.

Along those same lines we note in this month’s intention that Pope Francis asks us to be present among the poor. He doesn’t simply ask us to remember the poor, to consider the poor, or even to fight for the poor or to stand up for the poor. He distinctly asks us to be present among them. This even differs from being present to the poor. We must be among them and we must be fully present there. For many of us this seems impossible.

How are we present among the persons of the Trinity? Do we not enter their Presence through prayer and contemplation, through study and exploration? We can be present to many distant realities through the power of our mind and spirit, if not by the strength of our limbs or the validity of our passport. When we see one who is poorly dressed or unattractive in some way at a doctor’s office or in a store, do we shy away, ignore or show disapproval? A kind word or even a smile can make us present to such a one in a holy way. When we have a choice to read a novel or an informative article on some aspect of the existence of the voiceless, what do we choose? When we have an excess of possessions, do we just throw them away or take the trouble to find a way to share? Do we share things that are not worthy of the dignity of the poor?

As we consider ways we can live out this challenge of Pope Francis, we may benefit from repeating his words from Gaudate Et Exsultat, “Being poor of heart: that is holiness.”

Just Gospel: Pope Francis’ April Prayer for Economists

Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Kathleen Murphy shares on Pope Francis’ April prayer intention for economists and another line from Tom Kendzia’s song Now is the Time.

…Spirit of hope, stand before our eyes. Make us your own, now is the time… This line from Tom Kendzia’s song introduces our thoughts for a new month. Spring awaits its moment to burst forth. These are the days of hope’s new birth opening before our eyes. God brings forth new life again and it is ours to see and celebrate!

In this season of newness we look at Pope Francis’ intention which asks us to pray, That economists may have the courage to reject any economy of exclusion and know how to open new paths. When Pope Francis met with leaders of the U.N. in 2014 he shared the following thoughts: “I would like to remind you of an incident which took place two thousand years ago and is recounted in the Gospel of Saint Luke (19:1-10). It is the encounter between Jesus Christ and the rich tax collector Zacchaeus, as a result of which Zacchaeus made a radical decision of sharing and justice, because his conscience had been awakened by the gaze of Jesus. The gaze, often silent, of that part of the human family which is cast off, left behind, ought to awaken the conscience of political and economic agents and lead them to generous and courageous decisions with immediate results, like the decision of Zacchaeus. The account of Jesus and Zacchaeus teaches us that above and beyond economic and social systems and theories, there will always be a need to promote generous, effective and practical openness to the needs of others. Jesus does not ask Zacchaeus to change jobs nor does he condemn his financial activity; he simply inspires him to put everything, freely yet immediately and indisputably, at the service of others.”

Though we may not be able to contribute to the needs of others from our personal economic resources, we know that our Community helps in our name. However, we can offer our prayer always and everywhere and in some situations we can offer our time and energy to help those who are excluded by society. Keep in prayer those individuals and agencies who make it their work to bring economic justice and security to those who lack the basic needs of life.

Our Core Value statement reminds us that In the spirit of St. Francis, we read the signs of the time and express our love for the Church by loving service…

The signs of our time surely cry out for those who selflessly serve, those who recognize injustice and decry it, those who hold up in prayer the ones who have little reason to hope and cry out in their behalf. Let our prayerful support of all who work for economic justice, as well as our own work and appeals to God in the name of the poor and downtrodden be a source of hope in the world. For, now is the time!

Just Gospel: Pope Francis’ March Intention

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ March intention “that the Church may appreciate the urgency of formation in spiritual discernment, both on the personal and communitarian levels.”

…Spirit of faith, rise above our doubting. Make us your own, now is the time… Tom Kendzia continues to challenge us in the words of his hymn. In our minds we know that certainly God in all his might is quite capable of rising above our puny doubts. However, in the daily round of living we can lose perspective and our little doubts trade places with God’s mighty Spirit and that Spirit becomes distant and small in the blur of our vision which focuses on the doubts that beset us. Now is the time to put things in order, to see clearly, to take on the focus of God’s vision.

Pope Francis, in his intention for the month leads us to the tool most needed in sharpening the focus of our inner vision. He asks us to pray, That the Church may appreciate the urgency of formation in spiritual discernment, both on the personal and communitarian levels. There is much for us to pray about here. We know the term “formation”. It is good to be reminded that the discernment Pope Francis speaks of cannot be simply taught or learned or even caught. Spiritual discernment requires formation, long term openness to the Hand of the Master and his instruments. And what is spiritual discernment? Spiritual discernment is calling on the Holy Spirit to lead or give direction on a matter. It is how the Spirit shows the church and its people what God wants them to do and be. So we are to pray for ourselves, the Church and the whole world that all may be open to being formed in ways of calling on the Spirit to lead in our decision-making. What a different world this would produce!

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada invokes Pope Francis’ image of the Church as a field hospital after a battle. He writes, “The image of the church as a field hospital is not just a simple, pretty, poetic metaphor. Field hospitals by their very nature indicate a battleground, a struggle, suffering, confusion, emergency; and they foster dialogue and encounter, conversion, accompaniment, consolation, compassion and the binding of wounds. Each of us who serves on the front lines in the field hospitals of the Church is also a wounded healer. The power to heal comes from a spiritual source and each one of us has the potential to connect with that source.” So, if we are to serve the People of God as healer, teacher, or leader, we must be in touch with the source of all healing and life, that is God. This implies an ability to discern the working of his Spirit among us.

This challenge of spiritual discernment finds a place in our life through the living of our charism. Our Core Value statement reads, “We believe that our Charism both identifies us and influences our decision making as we become more faithful followers of Jesus and Francis.” There’s that mention of decision making. The context for our discernment has to be our Franciscan and uniquely Catholic Charism. This month should find us praying for guidance in our spiritual discernment, for inspiration among all of God’s people that they might discern authentically, and that we might worthily participate in the formation of others in finding the workings of the Spirit here and now for now is the time!

We invite you to visit us at a time that works for you or consider one of our other discernment opportunities. Click here.

Just Gospel: Pope Francis’ Intention to Resist Corruption

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy continues Just Gospel post highlighting Pope Francis’ monthly intention that those who have material, political or spiritual power may resist any lure of corruption and Tom Kendzia’s song Now is the Time.

…Spirit of truth, save us from our lies. Make us your own, now is the time…Tom Kendzia’s lyrics again lead us to reflect on some themes for this month. Notice that the words plead to be saved from our own lies. We do not ask for protection from the deceits of others. What is more insidious than our own deceptions and corruption of the truth? If we are truly to belong to God, we need to make His truth our own and be set free from lies.

In a similar vein, Pope Francis asks us to pray, That those who have material, political or spiritual power may resist any lure of corruption. The word corrupt comes from Latin and means to be broken apart. When we break the truth apart and appropriate only what suits us, when we break the truth into parts small enough for our personal comfort, when we break the truth apart and reorder its parts to make it more palatable we are guilty of corruption. Our power level may not be great, but we all have power in some measure and thus we need to examine our use of that influence and our faithfulness to the truth given us.

Once again Father Federico Lombardi has something to say to us on this topic. As he reflects on his experiences with Pope Benedict XVI when he served as papal spokesman, he writes, “It was necessary to recognize the truth even when it was extremely painful, to go deep into the truth before God and people. To not be worried about the image first or concerned about saving face. Benedict has always insisted on the primacy of truth and the search for truth.” We must be aware of our call to be speakers of the truth, but also as ones called to pray for those in positions of power that they might have the strength of character and the dignity given them by God to speak the truth and to act with integrity.

Values Speak to Truth

Personally, we are often held in esteem due to our vocation in the Church. Our Core Value statement reminds us of the responsibility we have to truth as it says, In joyful acceptance of poverty, we, as vowed women religious, affirm the need to honestly evaluate how we use material goods so as to become a ‘disturbing presence’ in our materialistic culture. This statement has many applications, but for our purposes here, it is good to consider the aspect of honest and truthful evaluation of our use of material goods. This is a part of our life that is evident to those who live and work with and among us. If we are not honest in our living of poverty, then the rest of our living, speaking, witnessing and evangelizing can be called into question. Let us use the power given us by the privilege of our calling in an honest and forthcoming way. Truth must characterize our living for, now is the time!

Just Gospel: Pope Francis’ Prayers for People of Asia

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy continues reflections on Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the people of Asia and Tom Kendzia’s hymn Now is the Time.

…Be with us, you who say, “Do not be afraid.” Make us your own, now is the time. We begin this new year singing the words of Tom Kendzia’s hymn. God consoles us and sends our fear away. Despite the happenings in our world, God remains the Creator, the Almighty one directing the proceedings of our universe. Now is always the time for God’s work.

In our country and in our Community we are safe from fear in so many ways. Yet, countless others throughout the world do not enjoy the level of safety that we do. Pope Francis asks us to send our prayers once again to the people of Asia. His intention for this month is: That Christians, and other religious minorities in Asian countries, may be able to practice their faith in full freedom.

One has only to do an internet search regarding the Church in Asia to find such language as, underground Church, risk their lives, hostile country, religious-governmental tensions, protests, rebels, ban on Christians, persecution, flight, embattled Christians. This is an unfamiliar lexicon for us. It surely does, however, confirm the need for prayer in this part of the world. These Christian communities need to be assured of that phrase “Do not be afraid.” Our prayerful support can be that assurance.

Our further consideration of freedom from fear leads us back to the words of Father Federico Lombardi, former papal spokesman. He writes, “The presence of evil in the world is a terrible, pervasive and powerful reality. Yet, the power of evil in the world is the most difficult test for our faith: Where is God? Where is justice? The dynamics of communication generally give particular weight to the worst news, disasters, conflicts and scandals, and so the darkness of the evil grows thicker and thicker. Unfortunately these things are true, but they are not the whole truth. God is also at work in the world. You have to open your eyes to see it, your ears to learn how to hear it.” We place our hope in and our prayer behind the goodness that lives in the faithful who labor for the Kingdom in Asia.

In terms of our own Community, we look to our Core Value statements and find, We work at building community by being more sensitive to each other. In our understanding and empathy toward one another, we build a stronger Community, a body of faith which entreats the God who does not know constraints of time and space. In our efforts to be sensitive to the needs and realities of each other, we also build up the Body of Christ which extends throughout the world. In our prayer, in our actions, in our efforts, let us remember that, now is the time!

Pope Francis’ Intention: Christians in Africa

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy reflects on Pope Francis’ May prayer intention for the Christians in Africa.

It is May, the month of Our Lady. Pope Francis has asked us to pray that Christians in Africa, in imitation of the Merciful Jesus, may give prophetic witness to reconciliation, justice and peace. There is such great devotion to Mary among the peoples of Africa and are these not hallmarks of our Mother in Heaven —reconciliation, justice, and peace?

An unofficial look at apparitions of Our Lady in Africa yields a total of 32 occurrences, some of which are approved and some which have not yet been proven. Yet, this survey indicates such a reverence for Mary. She is our perfect model of mercy, of witness. On the flip side of statistics, of the 53 nations of Africa 15 are embroiled in war and this does not account for the many tribal skirmishes and terrorist uprisings that plague the continent. It seems it is time for the Queen of Peace to come to the aid of her people.

Pope Francis said, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. She appears to us as a vessel filled to the brim with the memory of Jesus, as the Seat of Wisdom to whom we can have recourse to understand his teaching aright. Today Mary makes it possible for us to grasp the meaning of events which affect us personally, events which also affect our families, our countries and the entire world. Where philosophical reason and political negotiation cannot reach, there the power of faith, which brings the grace of Christ’s Gospel, can reach, opening ever new pathways to reason and to negotiation.” So much war and strife mars the ancient beauty of the African continent. So much tribal history keep old wounds open and festering. Let us make our prayers heartfelt as we remember these many suffering peoples.

St. Francis longed to travel to the lands of Africa to evangelize, to preach the Good News. Here, in Egypt he met with the Sultan and tried to bring an end to the 5th Crusade with all its violence. In the encounter between them, both Francis and the Sultan were changed. When Francis finally left to return to Italy, the Sultan showered him with many gifts and treasures. Because he had no interest in worldly wealth, Francis refused them all, except one special gift: an ivory horn used by the muezzin to call the faithful to prayer. On his return, Francis used it to call people for prayer or for preaching.

Francis also shared with his community his new and deep respect for his Moslem brothers and sisters, breaking down the cycle of enmity and misunderstanding that fueled the Crusades. Francis was especially struck by the Moslem five times daily prayer, and the practice of prostrations in worship of God; his letters urged Christians to adopt a similar practice: To make prayer a part of everyday life, in effect to remember God in everything you do. So, as Franciscans, we are called to lend our prayers to the cause of peace, justice and evangelization.

With Pope Francis we pray, “Blessed are you, Mary, for you gave the Son of God to our world. But even more blessed are you for having believed in him. Full of faith, you conceived Jesus first in your heart and then in your womb, and thus became the Mother of all believers. Send us your blessing. Show us the face of Jesus your Son, who bestows upon the entire world mercy and peace.”


Franciscans at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral to Pray for Peace in Syria

Led by young adults, people of all ages and backgrounds will gather at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral for Adoration, Benediction along and various other prayers for Peace in Syria, united with Pope Francis and Catholics throughout the world.  Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity will be there.Franciscans-pray-for-Syria

This gathering is in conjunction to Pope Francis’ call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and throughout the Middle East.  Learn more about this effort, and the other advocacy efforts at www.usccb.org/syria.