History of the Apostleship of Prayer

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The AP began in 1844 in a house of formation for young Jesuits in Vals, in the south of France. Fr. Francis Xavier Gautrelet sj, these young men’s spiritual director, suggested them a way of being apostles and missionaries in their daily lives, uniting with Christ in every action they would have done during the day.

The context of this suggestion came out of a very specific situation: priests who carried out their ministry as missionaries in distant countries, particularly in Madurai in Southern India, came back to visit their homeland and passed through the where they had been trained. Spontaneously and enthusiastically they told the young Jesuits about their work and their experiences, about so many people and situations in need of the gospel. The young students in Vals were inspired by these stories of fervor and missionary activity, even if at the same time they gave them a sense of sadness and discouragement because they realized how far they had to go to be ordained as priests and sent on mission. Studies seemed endless, the examinations arid, the community time useless, the prayers routine and apostolic tasks of no account.

They tried to cheer themselves up by spending hours in the library, reading books about India, and as a consequence they neglected their studies. Therefore Fr. Gautrelet made a suggestion which would allow them to find new meaning in the midst of the frustration they were experiencing.

At Mass on 3rd December 1844, Gautrelet explained that St. Francis Xavier had given his life following Jesus Christ, and that celebrating him on that day meant doing the same thing. Francis Xavier got as far as the coast of China, and went through many tribulations, moved by his passionate love for Jesus. In their own circumstances, it was their task to carry out the same Christian mission, but there, in the house of formation in Vals, not in the Far East. It was the same choice, the same call from Jesus, the same passionate love, the same mission, but in different times and forms. He invited everyone – students and professors, whether his directors or not – to be missionaries there and in that moment, through the simple offering to God of everything they were doing, striving to be available to Jesus in order to carry out their everyday duties well. As for the young, above all they ought to carry out well their duty as students.


Claude La Colombiere, a Jesuit of the seventeenth century, was the spiritual director of Sister Marguerite-Marie Alacoque, which had the revelation of the Sacred Heart. This spirituality, which leads to a personal and deep relationship with Jesus, marks the Apostolate of Prayer, to which the Society of Jesus, in the name of the Church, has entrusted the spread of this spirituality.
Today, the “Way of the Heart” is an update of this spirituality that leads to a personal and profound relationship with Jesus, at the service of its mission. It is a way to form apostles in the Pope’s Worldwide Network of Prayer.

In suggesting them the practice of what he called an ‘apostleship of prayer’, Fr. Gautrelet made them understand that, more important than what they did was the love and dedication with which they did it. What mattered was not to do much, but to love a lot. They should offer their everyday tasks to God, with love, he told them, and unite them with Christ who continued to offer His life for the salvation of humanity. He made them understand that their lives were as valuable and useful for the Church’s mission as the lives of the most self-sacrificing missionaries, if they lived them with the same love. Their lives would be as apostolic as the most fervent preacher, if they lived each little thing in union with the Lord’s Heart. What was important was the interior attitude of wanting to renew one’s love for Jesus and to make one’s availability and commitment to life new every day. It was the love of the Heart of Jesus which had chosen them, he said to them; they ought to respond to it being ready to fulfil what He was asking them and to respond with generosity to this great gift that they had received.

The specific practice that Fr. Gautrelet suggested them to keep this spirit alive was a every morning prayer of offering of the day. They thus declared their decision and will that the whole of the day would be for the Lord. He invited them to re-focus each day “to dispose the soul to free itself from all the disordered affections and, after having eliminated them, to seek and find God’s will in the organization of their own lives for the salvation of the soul”, as they had learned in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (cf. Sp. Ex. 1).

What was called the Apostleship of Prayer would show them a way which would help them to make real each day the ideal of seeking and finding God in all things, even in the simplest and most prosaic, “so as to love and serve in all things” (Sp. Ex. 233).

In short, the AP proposed to them the demanding and exciting way of living in permanent apostolic availability for love of the Lord. They would renew for each new day the ‘yes’ which they had spoken to the Lord in the Spiritual Exercises, asking afresh the grace to respond with complete generosity to the call of the Eternal King.

This gave the young Jesuits new enthusiasm in the daily tasks that had made them dispirited before. They understood that in their daily efforts and actions they could express their affectionate and personal love of Jesus, and that through them they would be responding to the mission to which He was calling them. They felt ready to make any sacrifice for Him. They really did want to be good missionaries for their Lord, in the present and in the future.


St. Therese of Lisieux took part in the AP during her childhood, and this way of praying, which she internalized at a young age, led her to be recognized as the patron saint of missions. Her parents also were part of the AP and prayed for the mission of the Church.

The daily exercise of the offering prayer also allowed them to understand the unity of this practice with Jesus’ offering to the Father, which they made present each morning in the Eucharist. They understood that the offering of their hearts was in a certain way a Eucharistic offering, as the whole life of Jesus had been, and mysteriously went on being, Eucharistic. Jesus had loved them ‘to the end’ in giving His life for them, and this became real for them again in the Eucharist. They wanted their hearts to be like the Heart of Jesus, and this was precisely the content of what they were asking: to have Eucharistic hearts like that of Jesus, that is, hearts (and lives) offered to God and given up for others. Their lives were united with this mysterious and deep reality, helped by the simple prayer of offering that they were making each morning.

They understood that living this way of offering their lives to God each day was a real apostolate. They had dreamed of being missionaries and giving their lives for Jesus. It was clear to them that they did not have to wait till the end of their formation, of their priestly ordination and to be sent to distant countries to begin to be apostles and collaborators in Christ’s mission. They could immediately make the radical gift of Jesus real, through the simple tasks of every day, especially with their studies. This was exactly their apostolate, what they had to do at that moment, as students preparing for priesthood: a quiet, humble, hidden apostolate, but important and effective, because in Christ they were uniting themselves spiritually with the whole mission of the Church, and collaborating with his daily sacrifice and self-surrender in supporting the labors of missionaries scattered all over the world.

The young Jesuits also made the connection between their morning offering and their evening examination. At the end of the day the prayer of the examination allowed them to recognize and give thanks for what God had done in their lives with what they had offered in the morning. These two moments of prayer, morning and evening, made them more open to God’s action in them during the day, and more conscious of being guided by Him.

These practices and the budding Apostolate of Prayer spread among the Christians of the region near Vals, starting with the country people whom the young Jesuits visited on the weekends. They would also be invited to collaborate in Christ’s mission, living in fidelity to the gospel and offering their work, sufferings and prayer for the Church. Even them could be apostles. In a few years this new proposal had spread all over the country and beyond, coming to have millions of adherents. AP groups were formed in parishes and Catholic institutions, a well-organized structure of Directors at the head of the new association was created in each diocese. The bishops took on responsibility for ensuring its vitality. In many places the AP came to take on the visible, structured form of an ecclesial Movement. There was always the possibility to be part of the AP without the need to belong to these specific groups, since all Christians were invited to live its spirit and adopt its simple practices. These two ways of living the AP were present from its beginnings. Canonically it came to be considered as a pious association of the faithful. The practice of the AP gave for those who followed it a new significance to the efforts and routine of every day. Druggy daily life could now be offered to God as a mode of collaboration with Christ in the mission of the Church. In other words, AP gave them a means of living their own baptism in the simplicity of daily life, and of participating in the priesthood of the whole Church, long before the baptismal vocation or the common priesthood of all the faithful were mentioned.

imageSince 1910, under the influence of the new Decrees of Pope St. Pius X, the AP wanted to emphasize communion of children, and asked them to intercede for peace, during that period of war in Europe and later worldwide. In 1914, the International Eucharistic Congress of Lourdes expressed its fervent hope for “a great Eucharistic league of little ones who, from their childhood, would give rise to a general movement toward the Eucharistic Host”. Encouraged by the Eucharistic Congress, groups began to organize. They were referred to as ‘Eucharistic Leagues’, then as ‘the Children’s Prayer Crusade’. A number of them joined the Apostleship of Prayer. It was at the heart of the Bordeaux Crusade, created on 13 November 1915 by Father Albert Bessières, SJ, and Geneviève Boselli, that the ‘Eucharistic Crusade’ really made its appearance.


In this letter St. Therese of the Child Jesus says that she prays for the mission of the Church and for the intentions of the Holy Father. Saint Therese, like their parents, lived the spiritual path of the Apostolate of Prayer, a “way of the heart” deeply united with Jesus, at the service of the mission of the Church.

In the period between 1890 and 1896 the Pope became interested in this immense network of Catholics who were offering their lives and their commitment to give spiritual support to the Church’s mission. He adopted it as a pontifical work and entrusted it to the Society of Jesus in the person of the General Father. Furthermore, from that date he began to entrust the AP with a monthly intention for prayer, which expressed his concern for which he asked the prayers of all Catholics. From 1928 onwards a second intention for prayer was added. The AP would receive from the Pope two intentions of prayer for each month, and was responsible to spread them all over the catholic world. They were called the General Intention and the Missionary Intention.

Praying with these intentions for global concerns in society and in the Church, especially for the so-called ‘mission countries’, broadened the horizons of all these believers to universal dimensions. As well as strengthening their sense of belonging to the Church, they felt themselves to be apostles chosen by Jesus to collaborate with Him, feeling that their simple lives were made useful in sustaining the Church’s mission.

The formulation of the themes proposed by the Pope year after year has developed down to present day, when we can see that a large part of the intentions of prayer show the universal Church’s concern for peace and justice in the world. Praying for these intentions presents to Christians, month after month, new challenges, pinpointing great human needs, for which they are invited to commit their lives in prayer and service.


A new inventory (finding-aid) is available online for the historic archives of the worldwide Apostleship of Prayer (Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network) held in ARSI (Jesuit Archives Rome). Thank you to the archives team, Brian Mac Cuarta SJ and Sergio Palagiano.

It includes the founding documents of this enduring apostolate in which Jesuits have been involved from the beginning

Reaching back to its foundation in 1844, it is particularly interesting for the regional directors and coordinators’ correspondence from across the Catholic world.

From Africa, there are materials from Benin, Cameroon, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

Similarly from India there is correspondence from Andhra Pradesh, Chennai, Goa, Gujarrat, Karnataka, Kerala, Kolkotta, Madhya Pradesh, Mumbai, Pune, Ranchi, and Tamil Nadu.

Other Asian countries represented include China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.

From the Arab world there is material from Egypt, Lebanon and Syria.

There are also reports from the Caribbean (Haiti, Jamaica), from Europe, Latin America, North America, Australia and Fiji.

The Eucharistic Congresses also feature, including Budapest (1938), Buenos Aires (1934), Chicago (1926), London (1908), Manila (1937), Sydney (1928).

LINK to Inventory: http://www.sjweb.info/arsi/Guide.cfm

LINK to 15 minute film: https://archive.org/details/EucharisticCongressBudapest1938

We began the “recreation” of the Apostleship of Prayer almost ten years ago. These long spiritual processes do not depend on our own powers or capacities but rather on our availability to the Spirit of the Lord, because it is He who is leading. This recreation was necessary so that this spiritual treasure of the Church could be communicated to more people, especially to the new generations and also so that we might be more faithful to the mission that the Holy See has confided to us since the end of the 19th century. Our mission is to pray and to live the challenges of humanity and of the mission of the Church expressed in the prayer intentions of the Pope. This is not possible without a deep communion with the Heart of Jesus. For this reason we propose to those who desire to become part of this network a spiritual itinerary, the “Way of the Heart,” which leads our heart to be deeply united with the Heart of Jesus, in a mission of compassion for the world.


This process of recreation does not change the Apostleship of Prayer into something totally new or different, but rather helps us to deepen our fidelity to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Misunderstandings, fears and insecurities have been generated along the way. This is normal and to be hoped for, since it is sometimes difficult to understand the dynamic of how continuity is associated to what is new. This to say that the new gives continuity to what already exists. Is this not what Jesus says when he speaks of the new patch on the old clothing? (Mark 2:8-22) As the Gospels demonstrate to us, there are always misunderstandings when the Spirit of the Lord makes something new.

The current process of recreation going forward and led by the Spirit of the Lord finds its source in the reform made by Fr. Henri Ramière in 1861. This Jesuit priest had to give a new dynamism to the Apostleship of Prayer, explaining to its members that devotion to the Heart of Jesus was part of the proposed way. With the publication of the first issue of the Messenger of the Heart of Jesus, he invited them to pray for the intentions of the Heart of Jesus. After 1879 these intentions were formulated each month by the Pope and confided to the Apostleship of Prayer. Through this invitation, Ramière saw that this prayer was apostolic and open to the world and, that through the prayer of offering, we are united to the Heart of Jesus, at the service of his mission.

Apostolic or missionary prayer is prayer that prepares us for the mission of Christ in our daily life. The prayer of offering makes us available to his mission. This attitude of interior availability to the mission is an opening of the heart and docility to the Spirit of the Lord. For this reason the title of the document of recreation of the Apostleship of Prayer carries the
name: “A way with Jesus in Apostolic readiness.” What Fr. Ramière called “prayer and zeal” (in the sense of care, diligence, commitment) for the Kingdom of Christ, today, we call “prayer and action,” since true prayer prepares us for action, opens us to others and to the world.

Ramière synthesized the Apostleship of Prayer in three characteristics: “[a] prayer, as the universal means of action; [b] association, as a necessary condition for prayer to be effective, [c] the union with the Heart of Jesus, as the source of life for the association.” What was called “association” we now call “network,” a word which better expresses the original intention. Ramière explained this clearly, saying that “this is not an association like others, nor a new work to be added to others, but rather a new connection that unites all the ecclesial associations in the same focus” for the mission of the Church. (See the publication: “L’Apostolat de la Prière” 1861,) Saying that the Apostleship of Prayer was the “holy tie of Christian hearts united to the Heart of Jesus” is equivalent to the current expression “a network of hearts united to the Heart of Jesus.”

This network of hearts is the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, to which the Holy Father recommends praying for his prayer intentions, which express challenges of humanity and of the mission of the Church. Challenges that are the fruit of his gaze and universal discernment and which are the intentions of the Heart of Jesus. Forming part of this Prayer Network leads us to grow in availability to the mission of compassion of Jesus for the world, entering into the dynamic of the Heart of Jesus.

How can you become a member? Two ways of participation are offered: an “open” form and another of “membership and commitment,” which is available at both the personal and community levels. These modalities are a reinterpretation of the three grades of participation of the Statutes of 1896, which were present in many countries.

The open participation, accessible to anyone who has been baptized, consists of praying for the prayer intentions of the Pope, in particular on the First Friday of each month, “the monthly Day of Prayer for his intentions.”

The way of membership and commitment is a more active commitment at either the personal or community level. The personal level involves three moments of prayer to the Lord as part of daily life.

These prayers are present on our prayer platform “Click to Pray”:
• “With Jesus in the morning” propose a prayer of offering
• “With Jesus during the day”, a prayer that permits us to calibrate the heart and relaunch what remains of the day.
• “With Jesus in the night”, a rereading to recognize our availability to the mission that the Lord has given us.

As the statutes say: “this prayer and apostolic availability is always united to Mary, the Queen of the Apostles” (2.1.)

For those who feel a call to live more closely united to the Heart of Jesus and desire to formalize their personal offering, commitment and service in this sense, are proposed the consecration or “alliance with Jesus Christ.” This makes them “apostles of prayer,” assuming the commitment to be available for service in their communities, parishes, schools, etc., as members of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (including the Eucharistic Youth Movement.)

On the community level a parish or a Christian community can desire to manifest its commitment with this ecclesial service, today a pontifical work, to specifically unite to pray for the intentions of the Pope, and, in particular, choosing the First Fridays of each month as days dedicated to this end.

Our most numerous and essential communal commitments are the among the groups of the Apostleship of Prayer, born of our spiritual tradition and present in the parishes. These groups form the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, are found in many countries and are the visible part of the iceberg that we make up. Without these groups, which faithfully maintain the call of the spiritual treasure that the Lord has confided to us, we would never have been able to begin the recreation of this ecclesial service. In many countries they have a diocesan structure and in some cases they have their own internal instruction and rules. They are invited to integrate themselves, at their rhythm, in the process of “recreation” in order to deepen their spiritual foundation and return in encountering the dynamic of the Heart of Jesus of their origins.

This process of recreation of the groups of the Apostleship of Prayer requires time since the rhythm of each one needs to be respected. Persons who discover the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network can form communities which already completely reflect the “refoundation.” The Way of the Heart is the spiritual itinerary that embodies this refoundation.

These communities not only pray and assume an interior attitude of availability to collaborate with the mission of the Church, but also mobilize themselves concretely, looking for ways to put themselves at the service of the challenges of humanity and of the needs of the Church. Those who join these communities promise, personally and as a group, to live according to the dynamic of the Heart of Jesus. At the same time, the statutes say (2.2) they will support our youth branch, the Eucharist Youth Movement, where it exists or other pastoral youth programs (of the parish, college, etc.)

This entire process of recreation can create misunderstandings, tensions, and fears. What is important is to put our confidence in the Lord, since it is He who is leading us. The Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (Apostleship of Prayer) is essential for the mission of the Church, since there is no mission, docile to the Spirit of the Lord, without prayer. Today as yesterday the Lord gives us his fire, from his heart.

Frederic Fornos SJ
International Director

Magazine Mensageiro – Portugal January 2019

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