ROME — Pope Francis has kicked off the new year by shedding light on the plight of persecuted religious minorities in Asia, asking that Catholics join him in praying for these people and for religious freedom in their countries.
The video, released Jan. 5, opens by showing images of different scenery and people in Asia as the pope, speaking in his native Spanish, says that “in the vastly diversified cultural world of Asia, the Church faces many risks and her task is made more difficult by the fact of her being a minority.”
These risks and challenges, he said, “are shared with other minority religious traditions, with whom we share a desire for wisdom, truth and holiness.” Images of people from various religious confessions praying and lighting incense are then shown, and chains are placed around their hands.
“When we think of those who are persecuted for their religion, we go beyond differences of rite or confession; we place ourselves on the side of the men and women who fight to avoid renouncing their religious identity,” the pope said, as the chains are broken.
He closed the video asking faithful to join him in praying “for all of them, so that Christians, and other religious minorities in Asian countries, may be able to practice their faith in full freedom.”
The pope’s video for January is the second one in three months to focus on Asia, which holds a special place in his heart. In his November 2017 video, which highlighted the diverse ethnic and religious background of the Asian continent, Francis prayed for the Church in Asia, which despite the various challenges associated with being a minority, continues to be a source of peace and dialogue between religions.
Between the two videos dedicated to Asia, the pope made a Nov. 27 – Dec. 2 pastoral visit to Burma and Bangladesh, both of which have small minority Catholic populations. In Bangladesh less than three percent of the population is Catholic, and in Burma it’s less than one percent. In addition to being a minority, the Church in these countries is also composed of people from a variety of ethnic minority backgrounds.
The visit to Burma, also called Myanmar, and Bangladesh, marked the pope’s third tour of Asia, the first being a visit to South Korea in 2014, and the second a trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in 2015. January’s video, then, is yet another expression of the pope’s interest and concern for Asia, where the Church is rapidly growing in spite of difficulties.
An initiative of the Jesuit-run global prayer network Apostleship of Prayer, the pope’s prayer videos are filmed in collaboration with the Vatican Television Center and mark the first time the pontiff’s monthly prayer intentions have been featured on video.
The Apostleship of Prayer, which produces the monthly videos on the pope’s intentions, was founded by Jesuit seminarians in France in 1884 to encourage Christians to serve God and others through prayer, particularly for the needs of the Church. Since the late 1800s, the organization has received a monthly, universal intention from the pope. In 1929, an additional missionary intention was added by the pope, aimed at the faithful in particular.
However, as of last year rather than including a missionary intention, Francis opted to have only one prepared prayer intention – the universal intention featured in the prayer video – and will add a second intention for an urgent or immediate need should one arise.