One of Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s traits has always been to ask his interlocutors to pray for him. Even many years before becoming Bishop of Rome, he would not end a conversation or letter without that phrase the whole world has come to know over the past decade: “Please, do not forget to pray for me.”
For the Argentine Jesuit who is now the Successor of Peter, those words were never a matter of circumstance; and even if repeated thousands of times, they have never become a mere habit.
Shortly after the election of Pope Francis, Argentine journalist Jorge Rouillón wrote an article recounting what had happened to him a few years earlier when Bergoglio was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
“One day I asked the Cardinal if he could pray for me because in those days I was waiting for the results of a medical examination of my prostate and there was a doubt that there might be something malignant,” said Mr. Rouillón. “The result was then positive for me, and I completely forgot the matter. Two or three months later I saw the Archbishop of Buenos Aires again. As soon as he saw me, he asked me, ‘Should I continue praying?’ I had to think about it before I understood what he was referring to. He had continued to keep in mind in his personal prayer what for me had now taken a back seat.”
Prayer for those who ask to be accompanied and cared for is a way of being close and present to others in their time of need, and corresponds to what Jesus Himself taught and witnessed in the Gospel. It was on 13 October 2013 when Pope Francis, in a homily at Mass in Santa Marta, spoke of the “courage of prayer.” “How do we pray? Is this how we pray, out of habit, piously but quietly? Or do we put ourselves courageously before the Lord to ask for grace, to ask for what we pray for? Courage in prayer: a prayer that is not courageous is not a true prayer,” he said. “The courage to trust that the Lord hears us, the courage to knock at the door... The Lord says it: ‘For whoever asks receives and whoever seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened’. But one must ask, seek and knock.”
How many prayer requests, how many pleas have reached the Successor of Peter from all over the world in recent years, and have been taken up by him in his personal prayer, as was the case with that of his Argentine journalist friend? There is, however, another stream, invisible and powerful, represented by the prayers of millions of faithful around the world. Women, men, children, the elderly, families. Simple people, who, hearing the Pope ask for prayers at the end of every Angelus, every audience, every speech, and every meeting, have taken his request seriously and continue to pray daily for him and his intentions. The most beautiful gift for the Bishop of Rome — who loves ‘being a priest’ so much and who does not spare himself, as we also saw during his recent hospitalization at the Gemelli Policlinic — is to be supported by these great prayers of the little ones. The people of God, who do not forget to pray for Pope Francis, rejoiced on Sunday to see him again in Saint Peter’s Square.
By Andrea Tornielli