Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Keeping my people close to my heart

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. Gregory, Commentary | Published January 8, 2015  | En Español

Some of you occasionally may have wondered what the designation Missa Pro Populo (Mass for the People) signifies when it appears as a Mass intention listing in your parish bulletin. It simply means that we bishops and pastors are obliged by Church law to pray for our people.

The Catholic Church requires us to offer Mass each week on Sunday and other solemn feasts for the people entrusted to our care. This offering represents a genuine obligation that we must take very seriously to care for the spiritual and temporal needs of the communities that we serve. In truth every genuine pastor does not need any law to compel him to pray for his people—it is one of the most important and spiritually fulfilling activities that fill our lives.

Every true pastor regularly receives many requests to pray for a special need of a parishioner. We are frequently called upon to pray for a sick or a wayward child or for a spouse struggling with an addiction, to keep an unemployed brother in our prayers, or to ask the Lord to heal a sickness that touches the life of a parishioner. I know that when folks ask me for my prayers for those kinds of needs, it reminds me that I have been entrusted with the great responsibility of keeping all of my people close to my heart and secure within my prayers. Church law only confirms what we do naturally and with great conscientiousness.

At the conclusion of one Christmas night Mass this year at our Cathedral, a wonderful young couple approached me and asked that I pray for their toddler who was in the hospital awaiting a new heart to save her life. They gave me one of those rubber wristbands with the little girl’s name, and I have worn it ever since Christmas. Each time that I look down at this modest memento, I recall that poignant brief conversation and the hope and the anxiety that this young couple shared with me in requesting my prayers for their critically ill daughter. I also know that in order for their prayers to be answered another couple will have to lose their baby, and I simultaneously pray for them as well—without knowing who they might be or how or when these events will happen.

That prayer request has reminded me how important it is for me to keep the needs of my people close in prayer. That wristband also reminds me of the many other times and circumstances that I have been asked to pray for a special need of one of my people.

Occasionally a prayer request is surrounded with joy as it was for two other couples here in the Archdiocese expecting a first grandchild. I have come to know and deeply love these particular families, and so I have already heard of the excitement that these anticipated births have brought to those households.

Quietly, over the Christmas holidays, both couples asked me to pray for the health and safety of the babies and the young mothers carrying these first grandchildren. Their joy is contagious and punctuated by much laughter and anticipation. They asked me to pray that these next several months will pass safely (not to mention quickly) as they await welcoming a new member of their families.

People ask their pastors to join them in praying for happy moments and events as well as for distressing issues. In each case, we as ministers of the Gospel must keep our folks and their needs uppermost in our hearts and prayers. Whether reminded by a published parish bulletin notice or with a wristband, we pastors must carry the needs and dreams of our parishioners to the Lord in the sure confidence that our prayers will be answered and that they will strengthen the folks that we love and serve.