Pope Francis constantly invites us to think about specific concerns and challenges that face all of humanity and the Christian's mission in the world. We are not only to think about these issues but to take them into our prayer then, from there, to try to be more open to whatever action we might be drawn towards, in the power of the Good Spirit. His Prayer Network, which anyone can join, is the principle means by which the Holy Father shares these prayer-requests with the rest of us, indeed with all people of good will.
In 2018, the Network will share, each month, not only these prayer requests but also suggest some challenges connected with them.
Following his highly successful apostolic journey to Myanmar and Bangladesh late last year, it's apposite that this month's intention concerns Asia. It embraces a wider, larger question at the same time, that very basic concern about religious freedom. Pope Francis asks, this month, that we pray about Religious Minorities in Asia: "That Christians, and other religious minorities in Asian countries, may be able to practice their faith in full freedom". The focus is on the Asian continent while the question of religious freedom arises in so many other places too, often accompanied by hatred and bigotry, violence and bloodshed. There are some in our world who use religion, somehow, as an excuse to treat others terribly; but theirs is no valid religion, despite their frequent claims to be its only authoritative followers.
Our "Living Prayer 2018" booklet (some copies still in stock - see below) contains some very helpful thoughts on this matter from a Jesuit who comes from that continent. Fr Mark tells us that, in some Asian states, some political and economic liberalisation has eased Christians' situation while in other countries religious freedom has diminished. He asks, in his reflection, hat we recognise and celebrate diversity, seeing it as "a sign of God's abundant blessing" that should lead to "mutual respect and sincere dialogue" rather than "hostility and intolerance".
Jesuit Father Frédéric Fornos, International Director of the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network, told us from our Rome office that "just a few weeks ago, the Pope visited Asia-specifically, Myanmar and Bangladesh-and while there, he emphasised how important it was that different religious creeds be able to live in peace and harmony." Fr.Fornos added, "Asia is a very important continent for the proclamation of the Gospel: a continent in which people of widely diverse cultures and beliefs live together, including many religious minorities. I think that's why Francis decided to dedicate this month to pray for the religious freedom of all."
Just as in 2016 and 2017, Pope Francis begins 2018 sharing his monthly intentions through The Pope Video, prepared and distributed by the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network. This month, he notes that "in the vastly diversified cultural world of Asia, the Church faces multiple challenges. Her task is made more difficult by the fact of her being a minority. These challenges are shared with other minority religious traditions, with whom we share a desire for wisdom, truth and holiness."