Jesuits move to re-create Apostleship of Prayer

VATICAN CITY - The Apostleship of Prayer, the Jesuit-run outreach that has brought Catholics the pope's monthly prayer intentions since 1890, is in the midst of a serious effort to re-create itself and broaden its outreach.

The revamping is focused on three areas: making the apostleship a digital prayer network; working with dioceses and parishes to introduce the apostleship to more people; and developing the Eucharistic Youth Movement, which is the branch for children and teens.

A working document outlining the history of the Apostleship of Prayer, its current status and specific goals and methods for re-creating the movement was posted online in the summer and publicized by the Jesuit's press office in early September.

Too many people, including Jesuits, view the apostleship as "an obsolete ministry that belongs to the past" or one that is "just 'a devotion for old ladies' that doesn't speak to younger generations," the document said.

At the same time, millions of people around the world see the pope's monthly prayer intentions, share them online and make them part of their prayer lives, the document said.

Through the apostleship, it said, the church can "reach the masses with a simple and profound spiritual message," which encourages them to open their hearts to the needs of the church and the world and contribute to the church's mission through their prayers and daily interactions with others.

Reflecting the Apostleship of Prayer's early connection with devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the document said it should be "a path that has its origins in the human heart, which becomes united to the heart of Christ and is sent out to the heart of the world."

Membership in the Apostleship of Prayer involves a commitment to beginning each day with a prayer offering one's life to God and praying for the needs of the universal church and the intentions of the pope. Members promise to end each day prayerfully reviewing their blessings and failings.

The morning offering and prayers are the basic membership requirements, and in many countries the apostleship has no registration, no groups, no fees, and no special meetings. The Jesuits estimate that about 50 million people fulfill the membership requirements in the apostleship and its youth wing, the Eucharistic Youth Movement.

The plan for re-configuring the Apostleship of Prayer encourages adaptation to local cultures and needs; emphasizes the connection between praying and working for justice; promotes spiritual formation based on Scripture and the sacraments; suggests developing prayer intentions that can be shared by other Christians and members of other religions; offering the new apostleship as a means for the new evangelization.

The proposals for the apostleship include some modifications in the papal prayer intentions "to address matters of interest to everyone, not just Catholics, not even just believers. The general intentions would challenge humanity, aimed at themes of universal justice," it said. The "missionary prayer intentions," prepared by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, would keep their general focus on issues of special concern to the Catholic Church.

In current practice, national Apostleship of Prayer directors send ideas for the prayers to the international office in Rome. The international director and the superior general of the Jesuits choose 12 themes and send them to the Vatican Secretariat of State where they may be modified in light of suggestions from Vatican offices. The final list - along with the missionary intentions - is returned to the Jesuits for distribution.

The plan to re-launch the Apostleship of Prayer emphasizes the use of websites and social networks to share the pope's prayer intentions, notify people about emergency prayer intentions and create connections among people around the world, who are trying to follow Christ and are serving the church by praying for its needs and the needs of the world.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970