CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Death or resurrection for the Apostleship of Prayer

HONG KONG (SE): With the exception of the two world wars, there has arguably not been a time in living memory when the Vatican has bombarded the Catholic world with as many requests for prayer as during the period between the February 11 announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that he would resign and the bunking down of the conclave to elect his successor.

Yet strangely, at this time, Father Jim Hurley SJ, the former director of one of the oldest and most established systematic prayer groups in the Church, the Apostleship of Prayer, says that the movement is in crisis.


Beginning as a way of participating in the worldwide missionary outreach of the Church in 1844, it was later adopted by the pope and furnished with his personal intentions for each month of the year, but today, according to the Irish Jesuit priest, tottering on the edge of extinction.


Father Hurley, who stepped down from leadership of the movement in Hong Kong in December last year in favour of the much younger Divine Word Missionary, Father Alfredo Rollon, said that the Apostleship of Prayer was established in the then-British colony in 1904.


“It is now entrenched in seven parishes,” he noted, “which is good, but we have over 50 parishes in the diocese and the Legion of Mary, a much later arrival, is established in nearly all of them.”


But he said it gets worse. “We have over 250 Catholic schools. But the Apostleship of Prayer is only present in four of them.”


He added that it is estimated currently that over 40 million people around the world belong to the movement and pray the intentions of the Holy Father each day.


“But in 10 to 20 years time that could drop to less than 10 million,” he lamented, “as approximately 90 per cent of them are elderly women.”


However, he said that the movement, which has always been administered and promoted by the Jesuits, has been going off the boil for over half a century. “I joined the Jesuits in 1944,” he explained, “and had to wait nine years before I ever heard of it.”


While he admits that this sounds like a terrible tale of woe, he claims there are signs of hope. “I still dream about a new, energetic Apostleship of Prayer emerging out of these troubled times,” he said.


Father Hurley explained that the Apostleship of Prayer is built on four pillars. “It begins with a morning offering. Each day we offer our thoughts, words, actions, sorrows and joys to the Lord,” he explained.


“Offering joys in prayer can be a revelation to some people,” he went on, “and a freeing revelation at that.”


The offering includes two intentions provided by the pope—one a general intention and the other a missionary one. “For example in August 2012, we prayed that prisoners may be treated with justice and respect—then that young people will follow Christ and be willing to proclaim and bear witness to the love of Christ,” he recalled.


Father Hurley added that Pope Pius XII also judged the movement as the best way to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart in the Church.


However, he added that crises are not times to cry and do the ostrich thing by burying your head in the sand, but rather, are a call for creativity.


“I like the word crisis,” he went on. “My knowledge of Chinese tells me that the character for crisis is actually a combination of two concepts, danger and opportunity. New worlds beckon new frontiers.”


He concluded that in order to be positive the question to ask is how to recreate, not how to lament.”


Father Hurley lists areas that are problematic as the top heavy control of clergy and religious, the a lack of a consciousness of human rights in the prayer intentions as well the absence of the daily grind and challenges people face in the workplace.


“Recently an intention was included for security and safety in the workplace. In addition, commentaries have been produced explaining who our neighbour may be in a modern city and developed society,” Father Hurley explained, “but this needs a lot more attention and development.”


He also hopes that prayer intentions will eventually be prepared locally and have a local flavour, addressing particular everyday situations being faced by people in their own backyards.


He added that where possible, it is good to pray together, maybe in the family or with friends if it can be managed.


However, one of the beauties of the Apostleship of Prayer is that people can pray anywhere—on the train or bus, during breaks at work, or in the quiet of a private moment.


Father Hurley pointed out that the statutes of the Apostleship of Prayer have not been revised since 1968, even though the world has changed radically in that time. He added that he is all for a revision, although he does understand the daunting task it represents.



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