In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI gave us "a mandate" to "go forth and be witnesses of God's mercy, a source of hope for every person and for the whole world."
Photo: Felix Carroll
Before she begins to painstakingly untangle a pileup of prayer requests on her voicemail each morning, before she begins fielding the several hundred daily callers whose disjointed voices cover the spectrum from desperation to delight, before she begins helping complete strangers grow in sanctity, Cathy Chichester heeds a reminder she keeps tacked to the wall beside her desk.
It says, "Before taking any calls, put on the armor of Christ."
All the workers in the Divine Mercy Intercessory Prayerline's office have their own routines to ready themselves. Cathy's routine includes turning to Ephesians 6:10-18, a passage that reads like a survival guide tailor made for prayer warriors such as herself. It's about building strength through union with the Lord, doing "all this in prayer, asking for God's help."
"OK, Lord," says Cathy, the prayerline's supervisor, one recent morning. "Now we're ready."
Ninety-nine years ago, amidst a broken, violent age, Blessed George Matulaitis-Matulewicz (1871-1927), took pen to paper in St. Petersburg, Russia, and laid out a plan for the future. Known as the "Renovator" of the Marians Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, he wrote how he wished to gather and train the laity so that they may join forces with the Marians to serve where the needs are greatest. He called it "one of the most pressing needs of our times" to "gather such people of good will around us and prepare them for such an apostolate, which would certainly result in the greater glory of God" (Journal of George Matulaitis-Matulewicz, 46-47).
A World in Need of Intercessors
Today, in a world arguably more broken and arguably more violent, the prayerline has become an extension of the Congregation's mission to be the presence of Christ to the world.
"Blessed George would be pleased," says Fr. Joseph, MIC, director of the Association of Marian Helpers. "This is a ministry that certainly addresses one of the most pressing needs of our times."
Those pressing needs became apparent more than 15 years ago when a trickle of prayer requests phoned in or mailed to the Marians grew to a daily deluge. Clearly, the world was in need of intercessors. In 1995, the prayerline was born, and since that time, the Marians have continually recruited, trained, and provided spiritual resources for lay intercessors who, through the power of prayer, serve as a spiritual bridge between heaven and earth, linking souls to the Holy Trinity.
Today, the ministry, headquartered in the Marian Helpers Center on the grounds of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., receives nearly 20,000 prayer requests a month by letter, phone, email, and through the Marians' website, thedivinemercy.org.
The needs are enormous. People request prayers not only for spiritual healing, but also for reconciliation of troubled marriages, for graces to endure chronic illnesses, for strength to overcome abusive or addictive behaviors, and for recovery from catastrophic injuries. Lately, with the economy experiencing a systemic collapse, requests have poured in regarding financial and economic needs.
"Throughout scripture, God's people are encouraged to intercede or pray for one another," says Fr. Joseph. "It is the Lord's intention that the members of the Body of Christ plea for His mercy, His life, His healing and the outpouring of His Holy Spirit on behalf of others who are experiencing injustice, suffering, or deprivation."
Prayer is the Business at Hand
On the face of it, with its rows of cubicles, the prayerline could double for a business office anywhere, except for a couple notable distinctions. Within those cubicles, those aren't operators standing by to take your order; they are intercessors standing by to take your prayer petition. And the business at hand here isn't financial (the service is free), but rather it's to serve others in a spirit of love and compassion.
"Hello, this is the prayerline. Brother Michael speaking, how may I pray for you today?" says Br. Michael Opalacz, MIC, upon picking up a blinking phone line.
In another cubicle, with images of the Blessed Mother and The Divine Mercy pinned strategically to the wall before him, volunteer Bill Jennings is telling a caller, "Let's take your troubles to the Lord and pray together."
Volunteer Claire Laydet is telling a caller, "Pray: Jesus, I trust in You!"
The intercessors don't offer counseling. They listen. They pray with callers, and they pray for callers and those who send their petitions via mail or electronically. Then, the intercessors pray for each intention in Our Lady of Mercy Oratory, located adjacent to the ministry's office. The intercessors pray for all intentions during their daily Holy Hour. The intentions are also remembered at two daily Masses, the 3 p.m. Hour of Great Mercy and in the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy.
Each intention is then placed into a prayer box beneath a 1st-class relic of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, the secretary and apostle of God's Mercy.
"We serve as prayerful listeners," explains volunteer Br. Paul-Robert Brandt, FSD. "We give people hope. We let them know they aren't alone."
Nearly 20 volunteers help answer calls, light candles, and pray for intentions in the oratory. Another 4,000 people from around the world also pray a holy hour each week for all the intentions that come into the prayerline.
Yes, prayers work!
Though the Marians' prayer warriors have come to consider most blinking phone lines to be a distress signal of some sort or another, that's not always the case. Almost daily, one of those blinking lines is a report of an answered prayer — a spiritual or physical healing, a job found, a condo sold, a successful surgery, a loved one who's returned to the Church.
Miracles? Perhaps. For the people of good will that Bl. George once imagined — the workers on the prayerline — such calls simply reinforce what they already know to be true: that prayer is one of the most practical things a person can do, because God hears us.
"Still, you're handling so much grief all day long," says Cathy, "and then you get an answered prayer, and it's like a ray of sunshine that came out for a minute.
"Then," she hastens to add, "it's back to work."
We invite you to call the prayerline (toll-free 1-800-804-3823), e-mail us (firstname.lastname@example.org), or write us with your prayer intention (Our mailing address is: The Divine Mercy Prayerline, Marian Helpers Center, Stockbridge, MA 01263).
Please consider helping the Marians continue this vital ministry during these difficult times. Learn more.