Pope inaugurates ‘School of Prayer

Pope Francis surprised everyone by personally leading catechism classes at St John Vianney parish on the outskirts of Rome to inaugurate his “School of Prayer,” engaging with children preparing for their First Holy Communion.

Apr 19, 2024

Pope Francis listens to a question as he meets with about 200 children at the Church of St John Vianney on the far eastern edge of Rome, where he went April 11, 2024, to inaugurate his “School of Prayer” initiative in preparation for the Holy Year 2025. (CNS/Vatican Media)

VATICAN: Pope Francis surprised everyone by personally leading catechism classes at St John Vianney parish on the outskirts of Rome to inaugurate his “School of Prayer,” engaging with children preparing for their First Holy Communion.

The unannounced visit took place after school on April 11, where he freely responded to numerous questions and encouraged the children to embrace their faith and turn to God in prayer, both in good times and in bad.

The Pope offered a brief catechesis on the topic of the prayer of thanksgiving, emphasising that it is one of the most important in the Christian life.

Pictures from the meeting posted on social media show the Holy Father happily greeting the children and even giving them playful “high fives.”

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelisation’s section for new evangelisation, which is coordinating preparations for the Holy Year 2025, had announced the “School of Prayer” in January.

The archbishop said the project would be like the Pope’s “Fridays of Mercy” initiative during the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in 2015-2016, when the Pope visited people on the “peripheries,” including babies in a neonatal unit, a centre for the blind and a housing project to illustrate the corporal works of mercy.

Pope Francis has asked Catholics around the world to observe 2024 as a “year of prayer” in preparation for the Jubilee Year. The encounter at St John Vianney parish, marked the first of a long series of meetings that form part of the Year of Prayer.

For these series of meetings, the Pope chose to start with children.

Of the various themes addressed with the children, Pope Francis wanted to emphasise the importance of “saying thank you for everything,” to parents, friends, teachers, and catechists, but, first and foremost, “to God.”

“It is important to say thank you for everything. For example, if you go into someone’s house and you don’t say ‘thank you’ or ‘may I’ or ‘hello’, is that nice?” he asked. “The first word is ‘thank you.’”

The Pope gave each of the children a large folder with his coat of arms on the cover and, inside, a special prayer of thanks composed for the occasion; the prayer thanked God for the gift of life, the gift of parents, the gift of creation and, especially, “the gift of your Son, our brother and saviour, friend of the small and the poor.”

“You taught us to call you ‘Father,’ and with your word you call us to live as true sons and daughters, to be brothers and sisters who walk together in the grace of the faith we received with our baptism,” the text continued. “Thank you, Lord, who loves us.”

Pope Francis asked the children if they pray, and one of the youngsters said his family prays before they eat.

“You said something important,” the Pope told him. They should all thank the Lord for the food they eat and for giving them families.

Alice, who is 10, asked, “How can I thank the Lord when I’m sick?”

“Even in dark times, we have to thank the Lord because he gives us the patience to tolerate difficulties,” the Pope responded. “Let’s say together: ‘Thank you, Lord for giving us the strength to tolerate pain.’”

Sofia, who will receive her first Communion soon, said it is hard to thank God when there are wars.

Pope Francis said there is always something to thank God for, and he shared a piece of advice: “Before you go to sleep think, ‘What can I thank the Lord for?’ And give thanks.”

Pope Francis ended the 50-minute meeting by reciting with the children a “Thanksgiving Prayer” composed for the occasion and printed on a leaflet with the Jubilee logo.

To each child, the Holy Father handed out rosaries.

“I brought you rosaries and also chocolate eggs”, Pope Francis had announced, asking, “Do you want the rosaries or the eggs?”

The little ones were divided on the issue, provoking laughter from the catechists. To them and to the priests, the Holy Father gave the first six published volumes of the series Notes on Prayer, aids designed by the First Section of the Dicastery for Evangelisation, and published by the Vatican Publishing House, to support pastoral and prayer life ahead of the imminent Jubilee Year of Hope. — Agencies

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