Prayer brings light of hope in dark times, pope says at audience

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

CITY (CNS) — Prayer has the power to awaken hope in men and women, even in the
face of death and destruction, Pope Francis said.

People often feel unworthy to turn to God when they are in need “as if it
were a self-interested prayer and, thus, imperfect,” the pope said Jan. 18
during his weekly general audience.

God knows our weakness; he knows that we remember him to ask for help and, with
the indulgent smile of a father, he responds graciously,” he said.

thousands of people in the Paul VI audience hall, the pope seemed to lose his
balance several times as pilgrims clasped his hand and tried pulling him toward them, hoping for a
hug or a blessing.

Still, the
pope took time to greet people,
stopping to bless a pregnant woman’s belly and embracing a young boy in tears, who was overcome with
emotion at meeting him.

audience took place at the beginning of the annual Week of Prayer for
Christian Unity, which for
2017 had the theme: “Reconciliation: The love of Christ compels

Addressing the different language groups,
the pope prayed that all Christian communities would “be open more to reconciliation”
and communion.

“In this same spirit of hope and with
gratitude for the progress already made in the ecumenical movement, I ask your
prayers for this important intention,” the pope told the English-speaking

During the
audience, the pope reflected on the prophet Jonah, a man who first tried to run away from
God’s call and initially
refused “to place
himself at the service of the divine plan of salvation.”

the story of Jonah is a “great lesson about the mercy of God who forgives,” the pope said.

Jonah fled from his task of
preaching salvation to the people of Ninevah who — in the eyes of the
Israelites — “deserved to be destroyed, not to be saved,” the pope
said. But when a dangerous storm hit, the pagans aboard his ship immediately prayed to their gods; a just
reaction in the face of death because only then “man experiences his own
frailty and his own need of salvation,” he said.

instinctive horror of death awakens the need to hope in the God of life,”
the pope said. People
think, “‘Perhaps God will think of us and we will not perish.’
These are the words of hope that become a prayer, that plea full of anguish
raised by the lips of man in front of an imminent danger of death.”

The storm
passed once Jonah
accepted his
responsibility and asked
to be thrown into the sea, the pope continued, which moved the pagans to a sincere fear of God
and “to
recognize the one true Lord of heaven and earth.”

The people
of Ninevah, he added, also had
the experience of facing death yet being saved in the end, which led them to know and
experience the truth of God’s love.

experience of God’s divine mercy is a reminder for all men and women to
recognize the “surprising occasions of knowing hope and encountering
God,” Pope Francis said.

“Prayer brings you to hope,” the pope
said. “And when
things become dark, with more prayer there will be more hope.”

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Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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