A year and a half ago, Claudia Langen - 53 years old, married with 21-year-old twins and living in Wachtberg near Bonn - launched an initiative to pray for the bishops: "prayer sponsors" already has more than 2,000 members. We spoke with Ms. Langen about this initiative.
- How did this initiative come about?
It began concretely with a conversation, within the framework of spiritual accompaniment, with the Auxiliary Bishop of Cologne Dominik Schwaderlapp; he told me that it would be good to pray more for the bishops, as he was concerned about internal divisions and the need for inner renewal in Germany. It was - a second, which I check in the diary - March 6, 2020.
On the way home I said to myself: the solution would be to find a "prayer sponsor" for each of the 69 bishops in Germany, including the ordinaries and auxiliaries. On the train I was thinking about the "locomotives" (the multipliers) that we have at our disposal in the initiative with which we distribute spiritual films in German cinemas (e.g., "The Prayer of the Bishops"). The last peak; Fatima: the last mystery; The greatest giftetc.). They are people from all over Germany, many of them with an intense prayer life. I immediately got on the phone.
- How long did it take you to find those 69 people?
In just a week and a half I got 69 people to commit to it. It was amazing! Then I asked myself the question of how to distribute them. If I had let everyone choose his or her "sponsor" I would never have finished. It occurred to me, and so I told Bishop Schwaderlapp, that we should draw lots: he had a box with the names of the sponsors on strips of paper and I had another box with the names of the bishops in the same way, and so we drew alternately the name of the sponsor and the name of the corresponding bishop. On March 17, 2020 we had the first round of prayer sponsorships.
- But they didn't stop there...
Indeed, many of these people told me that they had a relative or friend who would also like to sponsor a bishop. So I said to Bishop Schwaderlapp: "What do we do? I don't want to stop anyone from praying. His answer: "Start with a second round". We made it better known, for example through the Catholic news agency KNA. So, in one day I received 160 e-mails.
Also the Catholic weekly Die Tagespost published a text online and a paper article, which got a lot of people writing in. We gave interviews to Aid to the Church in Need and television EWTN; Radio Horeb discussed the matter on several occasions. It happened at the right time: due to the closure of the cinemas because of the pandemic, I had more time to devote to it.
- How many people are now participating in the initiative?
We are on round number 33; specifically - wait a minute, I'm opening the Excel table - we have 2,275 people.
- What do you say when you propose to someone to be a prayer sponsor for a bishop?
Now I no longer call anyone; on the contrary, they call me. But at the beginning I simply told them that the bishops have a lot of responsibility and even more so now, in difficult times, that it would be very nice if they would pray for them.
- What do you mean by difficult times?
In the year and a half that I have been involved in the initiative, I have seen that many people have become more critical, more skeptical. At the beginning of the pandemic, churches were closed, no Masses were celebrated... This has hurt people a lot, but it has given rise to many conversations about faith and the Church.
- Apart from the Catholic media, does the initiative reach out to new circles of people?
It is very difficult to reach other media, beyond Catholics. Actually, I didn't want to leave a personal level, but when the circle widened, we started to print some brochures and we also launched a web page of the initiative (https://betenfuerbischoefe.de), for which we founded an association called Glaube versetzt Berge (Faith moves mountains). We have distributed more than 36,000 brochures throughout Germany, mainly through sponsors, from person to person. For me, the most important thing is that it is done on a voluntary basis and that there is joy in prayer. The range of sponsors is very wide: the youngest sponsor is 11 years old - before I appointed her, I spoke to her grandmother to ask her permission - and the oldest is 96.
Among them are many young people. For example, Lukas Klimke, who was part of the first round and who will enter the priestly seminary in Paderborn next week. There are many religious sisters and some 80 to 100 priests. Moreover, the initiative is becoming more international: not only Germans are praying; people from Mexico and Brazil have joined us, through a Spanish community in Freiburg; but there are also sponsors from England, France, Spain... In some cases they are Germans living abroad; in others, people from these countries, who pray for the German bishops. The most exotic cases are those of a person living in Tokyo and another in China, who learned about the initiative from the article in Die Tagespost.
- Does the initiative extend to other countries?
After an interview I had with Claudia Kaminski on K-TV in January, Anna Reindl wrote to me from Austria to launch the same initiative there; since March 25 there has been an initiative "prayer sponsors" to pray for the Austrian bishops. And there are already more than a thousand people. This is a gift from heaven; you can't do it on your own.
All this has come from the hand of God: that through the Vicar General of Cologne, Markus Hofmann, I began to have a devotion to Our Lady that I did not have before - now I organize with him the pilgrimages of the Diocese of Cologne to Fatima, to which the film of Andrés Garrigó about Fatima has also contributed -, that later I continued the spiritual direction with Bishop Schwaderlapp....
- How do you maintain contact with what we could call the sponsorship network?
We send each of these people an informational email, every six to eight weeks, to keep the "prayer family" going. In the spring, shortly before the Assembly of the Bishops' Conference, we organized a livestream from the parish here in Wachtberg (near Bonn), which one of my sons took care of. It was the first time that more than 300 prayer sponsors had come together, at least virtually. On June 5, the feast of St. Boniface, we had a Holy Mass at the Marian shrine in Kevelaer, which was broadcast on the radio. Radio Horeb y EWTN.
On September 20, a new Assembly of the Episcopal Conference will begin. At that time I will be with my family on vacation, but we will travel to Gräfelfing, in Bavaria, where, together with some priests of the Emmanuel community, we will organize an evening of prayer for the bishops on Friday, September 17. We have already prepared a livestream and will probably delay it as well EWTN. We will not stop praying for the bishops, even if we reach ten thousand sponsors.