11/23/2015, 00.00
ITALY – VATICAN
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Praying for the pope and the Church is the path to salvation

by Piero Gheddo
​From the beginning of his pontificate, Francis pleaded for the prayers of the people of God. Many have praised him but have also not responded to his request. The faithful have been affected by the scandals of a sick Church. Yet, prayer is the strongest weapon, especially by the laity.

Milan (AsiaNews) - "Do not forget to pray for me," said Pope Francis from the start of his pontificate (13 March 2013). Repeatedly, he has pleaded this way with the Christian people.

As he had in his diocese of Buenos Aires, the pope who came from the end of the world had a very clear notion on how to reform the Church along missionary lines with the help of the Holy Spirit. In fact, he was elected precisely for this reason.

Perhaps he already had an inkling that eventually he would have to fight against those who, not understanding the value of his reform or feeling directly affected by it, would oppose it causing scandal and sowing confusion among the people of God.

It is not important to know who is opposing him. What is important is to understand that such resistance to Pope Francis’ work is front and centre in mass media, overshadowing the true meaning of his reform, which is to give to those who believe in Christ the personal and structural conversion of Church institutions to His divine model.

For the pontiff, the Church’s universal mission (hence his label as the ‘missionary pope’) starts from the conversion of believers in Christ, in order to bring everyone towards the only path to salvation, the one that Francis showed the Italian Church in Florence on 10 November, namely that humility, selflessness, the Beatitudes and the proclamation of Christ in today's world become a dialogue with everyone, as borne by our own witness.

When I met a parish priest in Vicenza (Italy), he told me, "Everyone, or almost everyone, admires and praises Pope Francis, but his call to conversion still fails to bite into the flesh of our communities of believers, and recent events have made the situation worse, drawing attention away from what Francis is asking from each of us."

Praying for the pope is a traditional practice in the Catholic Church. Praying for the people who have demanding tasks, like the pope, is a duty for all the baptised. It is the first act of charity, the greatest of them all. Praying is man's strength and God’s weakness, especially if it is for someone else’s needs, which is worth more than that for our own.

When he pleads for prayers, Francis is teaching us that he is the first one who does nothing without God. Thus, he is showing us that everyone needs to rely on God. Likewise, he often says that he will not stop on the path to reform the Church, and that he is asking more the Christian people to pray for him than he does his brother bishops and priests.

At present, we are going through a dark period, a tunnel in which boils burst and scandals explode. The faithful who are less than so have left because they confuse part of the Church with the whole.

Today we need a choral prayer in the dioceses, parishes, families, associations and Christian institutions, with a particular plea to Mary to support Pope Francis. but let us not forget that the Church is all of us; each of us is the Church. In view of this, we have to be firm and strong. In short, we have to emphasise the importance of personal prayer, of family prayer, and of prayers in ecclesial communities, big and small. Lay people are the strength of sick priests, and a sick Church.

How can we convince others to pray for the Pope? By example. When I am sick, I pray and ask for prayers. If I love a sick person, I pray for him or her. At present, the Church is sick and those who love her must pray because the most powerful weapon against evil is prayer. To show love for the Church and the pope we must pray for those who err so that the Holy Spirit may inspire their repentance. Such is the call to prayer for the pope: if we love him, it is not enough to give him a standing ovation; we must pray for him, and give him a living sign of our faithfulness.

In the 1930s, in my home town of Tronzano Vercellese two families were feuding. A young man stabbed another without killing him. This was followed by arrests, incarceration, and trial. The local parish priest, Fr John Ravetti (later monsignor and parish priest in the nearby town of Santhià), summoned the faithful for a rosary and Mass for the two families. My father, Giovanni, who was president of Catholic lay association Azione Cattolica, went to the priest and told me, “Praying is not enough, we need fasting."

This is what Mgr Ravetti told me after the death of the Servant of God Giovanni Gheddo. Fr Ravetti added that many non-believers and those who hardly ever came to Church prayed and fasted for those two families. They felt strongly their connection to the community of Tronzano.

Today the people of God must regroup as in the days of persecution. We are persecuted not only in faraway lands, but also in the heart of Christianity. We must hold hands, be close, and then turn to God for help. Francis needs hugs and caresses; prayers and fasting are hugs and caresses for the soul.

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