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Center for Catholic Education at UD

Prayer in a Time of Social Unrest: A Reflection with Olga Segura, Pope Francis, and St. John Paul II

Written by Elena Niese 

“Prayer requires that we stand in God’s presence with open hands, naked and vulnerable, proclaiming to ourselves and to others that without God we can do nothing. As disciples, we find not some but all of our strength, hope, courage, and confidence in God. Therefore, prayer must be our first concern.” Henri Nouwen

From the sweeping effects of a global pandemic to the racial movements consuming cities across the country, social unrest has surely not been absent in the year 2020. As a Catholic Christian, this reality often leaves me with a heavy heart, one that propels me to cry out to God in a fit of anger and frustration. Where is the regard for the human dignity of my Black brothers and sisters? Why are so many dying physically, mentally, and emotionally with the effects of the coronavirus? And, if I am being honest, these questions can be exhausting.  

As a writer of the upcoming book, Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church, Olga Segura is also not a stranger to these types of questions. I had the opportunity to hear her speak Monday, September 21st over Zoom, an event sponsored by the Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture. Segura shared her thoughts on everything from the impacts of what she called the “implicit racial imagination” within the Church, to what it means to hold our Catholic leaders accountable, what we ourselves can do to take action. However, what particularly struck me was Segura’s response to the question, “How can we pray in this moment?” Segura’s response was not one of certainty. She posed the question back to the audience sharing how she, too, is still learning each day what it means to pray in the context of all this unrest. She was certain, though, that prayer can also mean just sitting with the Lord in all our tears and anxiety, that sometimes just being with God in the dark moments is prayer itself. I needed this reminder of humble surrender, knowing the many questions that have filled my own prayer life this past year.

In a Homily given by Pope Francis on the 100th Anniversary of Saint John Paul II’s birth this past May, he mentions this former Pope’s love of merciful justice and a closeness to the people. But before mentioning either of these things, both of which were essential to his mission of social justice, Pope Francis first recognized St. John Paul II as a man of immense prayer. It was this prayer that informed the rest of his work, a life rooted in justice and mercy for all people. It is what made him a Saint. It is this prayer that is at the heart of the Christian life, too, giving each of us the strength and confidence to work for change.

As 2020 continues to unfold in all of its uncertainty, I encourage you to lay everything down and turn to the Lord in prayer, even if it looks like crying questions of frustration into the dark. It is this prayer that will sustain us for the work of social justice to come. And, maybe, this prayer might just make us Saints, too. I was in need of this reminder of humble surrender in light of what my prayer life has looked like
this past year.


Edited by Emma Grace Geckle

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