Dear Fathers, Sisters and Brothers,
At the outset, I wish all of you a fruitful lent 2024. It is my hope that you have programmed a number of Lenten activities, as in the past, for the parishioners and I wish the Lenten journey that we have embarked on this year “through the desert” (Pope Francis) may lead us closer to God and nearer to our neighbours. No doubt will the spiritual and charitable activities of this holy season help us find favour with God. However, as the Holy Father reminds us in his Lenten message this year, “it is time to act, and in Lent, to act also means to pause. To pause in prayer, in order to receive the word of God, to pause like the Samaritan in the presence of a wounded brother or sister.” In other words, the forty day journey of Lent, for us, is a God-given time to slow down and pray in order to assist our brothers and sisters in need.
Often times, during the season of Lent, we tend to give more attention and importance to almsgiving and fasting than the act of prayer even though these three are not unrelated acts but a single movement. It is the time, that we pause in prayer, takes us deep into ourselves and makes us open our eyes to reality like God who sees and hears when he said. “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters” (Ex 3:7). Still further, it is prayer that challenges us to note the cry of so many oppressed sisters and brothers in our contemporary society and poses us the concern, “Do we hear that cry? Does it trouble us as it did with Yahweh? Does it move us to come out of our comfortable zone?”. The season of Lent can be an opportune time of the liturgical year that calls us for genuine engagements in individual and communitarian decisions and actions for fraternity and solidarity.
We can also see the importance of prayer in the light of the designation of 2024 as a “Year of Prayer” by Pope Francis in preparation for the 2025 Jubilee Year “Pilgrims of Hope.” The focus of this year is on prayer, including, first of all, rediscovering the importance of prayer in the personal life of every Christian and in the life of the Christian community. The year of prayer, for the Holy Father, is dedicated “to rediscovering the great value and absolute need for prayer, prayer in personal life, in the life of the Church, prayer in the world.” Such an importance he attaches to this year of prayer that the Pope intends to set up a “School of Prayer” for 2024 which will be similar to his “Fridays of Mercy” initiative during the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in 2016. Perhaps we may still remember what the Pope did during this particular year. He visited the people on the ‘peripheries,’ including babies in a neonatal unit, a centre for the blind and a housing project, to mention a few.
Be that as it may, against the backdrop of the upcoming Parliamentary Election 2024 which is expected to be announced in the near future, the President of CBCI has called us for observing Friday, 22nd March 2024 as the ‘National Day of Fasting and Prayer’ for the Church in India and our nation. He has invited all the parishes of our dioceses in India to observe this day so that we may be able to harness the power of prayer to its fullest for the good of our nation. The CHARIS (Catholic Charismatic Renewal International Service) in India has put forward some suggestions for us to adopt according to our places amidst various other modes of observance of the day. They are: chain rosary, Jericho prayer, holy hour in each parish, 40 hours adoration with fasting, night vigil, way of the cross, divine mercy at a specified time in every parish, Bible passage reading with reflection etc. Besides these, I have asked the secretary of our diocesan liturgical commission to send you some practical tips to observe this day meaningfully in our parishes.
The season of Lent is not end in itself nor are the days of the passion and death of our Lord. It is rather a period of intense preparation both internally and externally for the day of Easter which gives us the hope that “through the desert, God leads us to freedom.” May this Easter for all of us be a symbol of hope, renewal and new life in the risen Christ!
Wish you all a grace-filled Easter.